Multitasking and The Risk of Insanity

I’m re-inventing myself at work. I’m overhauling what I do and the way I do it, because if I keep on doing what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, I’m gonna pop a spring somewhere in my psyche.

Without going into all the details, I’ll just say that I’ve been a multitasking maniac for the last few years. I’ve been a leader who could quickly respond to just about any issue very quickly and effectively (so I thought). However, I began to notice small lapses in my effectiveness: I was under-prepared for meetings. I forgot to follow through on occasional issues that needed my response. I forgot about new ideas shortly after they were brought to me. And worst of all, I lost touch with the people I have been trying to lead.

So I am killing the multitasking monster that lives in my head. I’m beating him to a pulp.  He’s not going down easily, but I’m starting to see progress. Here are three observations I’ve had so far:

I am becoming ruthless about ignoring non-essential tasks that try to woo me away from what I’m focused on. If it’s important enough to carve out 45 minutes to accomplish, then it is important enough to give 45 minutes of full creative focus.

I am noticing people’s faces. That may sound overly simple, but there is something important about looking at people in the eyes. As I have stopped allowing small, spur-of-the-moment demands to break my attention away from the person in front of me, I have begun to notice and appreciate the nuances of conversation. The small signals that help us determine what a person is really saying are easily missed when we don’t look up from our smartphone while they are talking.

I’m accomplishing more. There are plenty of experts who will tell you that multitasking doesn’t result in higher productivity. The authors of Freakonomics recently talked about this on their blog and mentioned an intensive study that suggested the same. With more focus on one thing at a time, I am getting more done, and getting it done with more excellence.

As I’ve written this, I’ve wondered how I can eliminate multitasking from my time at home. Am I listening to Krista when she talks? Am I playing with my son, without interruption from my phone or computer? Am I accomplishing some of the goals we have by focusing on one thing at a time? My answers to these questions would probably reveal that I have a long way to go.

I’ve slowly realized that taking on too many tasks is partially a result of my control issues, and not a true desire for excellence. The ironic part of this is that I’m not a task-driven person; I’m much more comfortable in the realm of ideas. I’m much more comfortable thinking through processes for improvement, and helping team members engage that process.

So now I’m having a little more fun doing one thing at a time, and as a result, sanity is starting to take over.


3 thoughts on “Multitasking and The Risk of Insanity

  1. As I read your comments it is so true of many of us who went through that process only to come to the same conclusions you have. Now go and relax with an excellent cup of coffee.
    Love == DAD

  2. Wow! Multitasking and insanity, those were the words that actually popped up in my mind while doing the usual…..multitasking! You describe it so well that I’m still amazed! Not only the word, but the whole concept should be eradicated.

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