Multitasking Comes to a Screeching Halt

About a year ago, I was driving my son and I home from a scout meeting.  We turned through an intersection and proceeded a few hundred yards forward I looked down to change the radio station.  At the same time, the car in front of me decided suddenly that they wanted to turn right into a parking lot and hit their brakes.  Lots of noise later, they have a beat up rear-end and my car is totaled.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.

A Do Everything World

Our world of multi-taskingWe all do it.  Folding laundry and watching TV.  Driving and changing the radio station.  Working on the laptop while talking to a co-worker on the phone.  Sitting in a meeting and sending an email.  Trying to do more than one thing at the same time because we don’t think there are enough hours in the day.  It’s called Multitasking and it is the biggest time waster of all!

“Wait”, you might say, “multitasking is a critical part of functioning in work and life today!  How can you say that it is a time waster?”

Because it is.

Your Bad Multitasking Self

The idea is that if we are multitasking then we are working on multiple things at the same time, juggling everything and keeping things going.  But that’s not what happens.  In most cases what happens is it simply means that you are doing multiple things badly.

It doesn’t help that multitasking is encourage by many employers today.  First, many companies advertise jobs where they specifically state in the job requirements that they want someone who can effectively multitask.  I guess my question is, how exactly do they measure that?  Secondly, with layoffs and streamlining, employers tell the survivors they must learn to do more with less, which unfortunately includes less staff.  But not less work.  While they don’t explicitly say it, they expect you to pick up all the slack and still do it within the same time frames.  So your choices at either to put in twice as much time or “multitask”.

The Case Against Multitasking

There are many reasons why multitasking simply doesn’t work.  The reasons run from the logical and practical to the medical and psychological.  We’ll cover just a few.

task switchingFirst, understand that what you are doing is not actually multitasking.  It is actually just task-switching.  What it reminds me of is Microsoft Windows operating system on computers.  Early versions of Windows offered a way to jump between tasks.  You could still only run one thing at a time, but you could jump between applications.  That was called task-switching.  It wasn’t until later versions where Windows would allow you to actually run multiple applications at the same time.  What we do when we allegedly multitask is the first one – we are simply task-switching.  Problem is, we aren’t a computer with an operating system designed to do that, so we have a lot more trouble than Windows did jumping from one task to another.  And that’s saying something.

Other reasons:

  • Multitasking does not increase productivity, it decreases it.  There is research to suggest that multitasking actually reduces productivity by as much as 40%.
  • Studies show that task-switching rapidly actually increases the time it takes to complete a task.
  • Task-switching slows you down because you have to re-align yourself each time you jump to the next task.  That means reaction times are slower, so if you are performing any task that requires quick reaction and reflex your performance suffers greatly.
  • Evidence shows more mistakes are made when multitasking instead of focused work.
  • Multitasking is stressful.  When multi-tasking in a fast-paced environment, your heart rate increases and stays higher longer than normal.  There is also emotional stress caused by the fallout of mistakes and failure while multitasking.
  • We are designed to focus on one thing at a time.  Again, lots of research to support this.  Health Magazine cites a 2013 University of Utah study that found the better you thought you were at multitasking, the worse you actually were.

In summary, you suck at multitasking.  And so do I and so does everyone else.

So, if you were doing something else while you were reading this, stop it until you finish.

Now leave your comments and thoughts.

Okay, now you’re done.  Go back to that other thing.


Time Wasting

You are wasting time.

wasted timeWe all do to an extent, but the more successful people minimize wasted time and know how to get the most out of the same 24 hours daily that you and I have.  Yes, many work long hours, that is true.  Yes, many work weekends as well, that also is true.  However, there are lots of people who work long hours including weekends and don’t get near as much done.  It’s a matter of getting more value from your time because you understand the value of your time.

In my postings on social networks today, I shared a quote from M. Scott Peck.  Peck was a psychiatrist and also an author.  His most famous book is The Road Less Traveled.  A lot of what he wrote about over the years was fulfillment and he was a big advocate of leading a disciplined life.  He also believed in understanding your worth.  The quote I shared today was

Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time.  Until your value your time, you won’t do anything valuable with it.

Understanding the value of our time begins with understanding the value of those things, including us, that take up that time.  Here are a few considerations to help you understand the value of your time:

  • My friend Kevin McCarthy developed the concept of the On-Purpose Person (you can buy the book on Amazon).  The foundation behind it is that we have to determine what our purpose is and once we understand that we have to plan our actions to make sure they are in alignment with our purpose.  In other words, you must be On-Purpose.  Kevin uses a light switch as an avatar to remind you to evaluate whether what you are doing is on purpose or off purpose.  While sometimes off-purpose can be a good thing, what we look to do is make more of our actions on-purpose.  So, in other words, when you understand your purpose, you attach value to yourself and your time.  Being On-Purpose is making sure that you are doing something valuable with that time.
  • If you lean more towards the pragmatic, you can do the math.  If you calculate out the dollar value of your time, then you understand better how much that time is costing you each time you waste it.  There are lots of internet sites to show you how to calculate it out, but the simplest one I found was on The Simple Dollar.  You figure out your take home pay from last year and subtract out all expenses associated with working, such as child care, transportation costs, etc.  Divide that by the actual number of hours you devote to working each year, including commuting time and all.  That gives you an actual dollar value per hour.  So everytime you look at an activity, evaluate it by how much it is costing you using that figure.  You may find yourself leaving out a lot more less productive uses of you time.
  • Be both sides of the customer/business relationship.  As a customer, how do you feel when service in the restaurant is slow, when the doctor makes you sit 30 minutes in the waiting room, when the repair shop doesn’t have your car ready when promised, when someone promises to deliver something to you by a certain time and then doesn’t come through.  You probably, if you are like most, display anything from displeasure to outright rage.  Someone has not valued your time and you WILL NOT TOLERATE IT.  But you do the same to yourself.  When you choose to put off productive tasks, to pick activities that look busy but actually don’t get you any closer to your goals or tasks, or simply choose to do something entirely unproductive, then you are treating yourself like that restaurant did, like the doctor’s office, like the repair shop, or the dozens of others who may have let you down today.  Insist on quality productive time out of yourself and believe in the value of your time.


Re-setting Time

Trying to manage timeThis past week was the time for most where we change our clocks to end Daylight Saving Time.  I remembered it always, as many did, by the phrase “Spring Forward, Fall Back“.  Of course, most of us don’t have to worry about it much anymore as our computers and smartphones will do it for us.  That, and a few years ago I got one of those alarm clocks that automatically adjusts for Daylight Saving Time.  After that, my only chore is to go re-set the ones that don’t automatically adjust.

The gist of it for us is that we theoretically “gained an hour” this weekend.  Never mind that we really just get back the one we lost in the Spring, everyone looks at as gaining an hour.

So here’s a question for you:

how much more productive did that “extra hour” make you this weekend?

Since it occurs in the middle of the night, likely the only benefit most see from it is the extra hour of sleep (that you lost in the Spring).  Some, like me, got up at the same time as always, usually around 5 a.m., and followed our normal routine.  Being a weekend, many were taking time off from being really productive anyway; but even if we weren’t it is doubtful that the extra hour made us any more productive.  It has more to do than just with the fact that the change occurs in the middle of the night.

Time is Not Important

Time is not what makes us productive.  With each tick of the clock, time passes no matter what.  Twenty-four hours and today becomes yesterday, tomorrow becomes today.  That’s all any of us ever have; from the President of the United States to the most successful person in your organization to the least productive person you know.  Everyone has 24 hours in a day.  Yet, many times, our time is frittered away with things like

  • Constantly checking our Facebook page (this has become one of the biggest wasters around)
  • Playing games, either online, on a smartphone or tablet, or on a game box
  • Television (and most of it is trash)
  • Procrastinating
  • Going to meetings
  • Being somewhere else in our mind other than where we are
  • Running in multiple directions throughout the day

There is, of course, much more but that is a good start.

Your 110

A good friend of mine and a very wise person, Jeff Bigby of Awaken the Nation, shows the math of our time in his presentations.  Jeff asks his workshop participants about how they spend their 110.  See, Jeff points out the following formula on your weekly schedule:

  • There are 168 hours in a week
    • We spend an average of 56 hours sleeping (assuming you are sleeping eight hours)
    • We spend 40 hours working (or more, not including the commute)
    • About two hours a day in meals for a total of 14 hours per week
    • That leaves about 58 hours per week.
    • Go to church?  Let’s say two hours.  That’s 56 left or 8 hours a day.

110 hours a week is manageable time

So, in that eight hours a day we have “administrative” things we have to do during the day, plus whatever else we want to do to.  Reading, family time, devotional/meditation time, community service, watching television, etc.  The point is that there is a part of your week you have limited control over.  Most of us NEED eight hours of sleep a night.  Most of us MUST work 8 hours a day for five days a week.  Eating 3-5 regular meals a day is CRITICAL to good health (as is eating the right things)!  So we have 110 hours a week over which we have almost total control!

So the issue is not time; it is how productively you are using that time.  You cannot manage time, no matter how hard you try.  So, what do you manage?

Manage YOU Not Time

I am no different from you on this.  I waste time pretty much every day.  But I have become aware of that and aware of my ability to make choices in changing that and examining my time wasters.  If I can do that, I am extremely confident that you can too.  Here’s some of the things I am doing to help bring that under control:

  1. Prioritize and Categorize
    Establish things into areas of must do, should do, nice to do for the week.  Ideally, do this on Sunday night or Monday morning.  Within each of those categorize them based on the part of your life they address; such as work project, family, health, etc.  Within each category, number them based on importance.  The importance is determined by time constraint, critical stage, or just your own personal plan.
  2.  The Daily Big Three
    Each morning, or the night before, list the top three things you need to carry out that day.  Take the top items of each category and place them on your list.  Number those according to importance.  There may be more than three, but the point is that you don’t go to bed tonight without accomplishing the Big Three.  Place the bullfrogs at the top of the list; the things you procrasitate on or simply hate to do.  Get them out of the way first thing and the rest of the day will be pleasant by comparison.
  3. Self-Talk
    It doesn’t matter what others say to us, it matters what we say to ourselves.  Encourage yourself. Talk yourself up.  Remember what you are made of.  Many of your tasks will be things you don’t want to do, have often gone out of your way to avoid, and might even be incredibly boring.  If you don’t talk yourself up, you will simply find another excuse.
  4. Reward System
    For each item accomplished, provide a reward of some type.  It should be a reward that is quick, easy, and yet provides incentive.  If you are a Facebook fanatic, each item completed earns you 15 minutes of Facebook time.  Now, for that to be a real incentive has to mean that you aren’t getting Facebook time without accomplishing the task.  If you are going to do it anyway, it’s no incentive.
  5. Consequences
    Sometimes one of the big three does not get accomplished due to something out of our control, but that’s a rarity.  Either way, fault or not, provide a consequence for not completing one of the big three.  Just like providing consequences for your kids, it has to be timely, connected, and reasonable.  For example, I read about what person who uses the consequence that when he doesn’t accomplish his tasks he wakes himself up in the middle of the night to work for an hour or two.  He values his sleep so much that it provides him incentive to manage himself better and avoid that consequence.  Be careful, though; if you find yourself administering a consequence too much it starts to lose its impact.  Change them up from time to time.
  6. Analyze
    At the end of the week, take a look back and see how things have gone.  Did things go better or worse?  Where could things have gone better?  Why?  How could you do it differently?  What can you tell yourself to help make it better?

So this is a little system I use for me.  How about you?  How do you manage yourself daily?  Got tips and tricks?  Be a river and not a reservoir!  Share them here