Multitasking (Or Another Word for “Not Paying Attention”)

How well do you think you can multitask?  Let’s take a little test.  Click on this one-minute You Tube video and see how well you do.  You will need your sound, so in an open office environment either use headphones or turn the volume down a notch or two.

If all of you are like the 30 colleagues I joined last week in a retreat, no one will ace the test.  That’s because it is impossible to give your full attention to two things simultaneously.  (Don’t confuse this with my recent note about keeping two opposing ideas in your mind.  Very different concepts.)

The retreat leader used this as the kick-off to the day’s discussion, and added a confession:  she often finds herself multitasking in meetings.  As recently as the Friday before the retreat, she was on a call with individuals from around the country.  She was also using the time to check email.  She confessed that more than once, she looked up and thought, “I don’t have a clue what was just said.”  In fact, she admitted to having to send two emails out over the weekend to gain clarity on what was discussed on the call.

I think we can all make similar confessions.  I take notes on my computer in order to have a paper-free office.  But the temptation exists to switch over and check email when a speaker drones on and on (perhaps that speaker was me on one of your calls).  Or perhaps you search the web at those times.  Or finish the on-line crossword puzzle you began on the commute into work.  In any event, attempting to multitask—and convincing yourself that you can follow both pieces of work simultaneously—is very human.  And, as multiple studies have shown, very wrong.

At last week’s retreat, we put our phones in a basket for the duration of the morning’s sessions.  I decided not to take notes on my computer, and instead jotted a couple of items down on a piece of paper while staying very engaged with the presentations.  Our retreat leader asked that we be present, and I found it was a very satisfying morning when I made the decision not to think about the 250+ emails, funding proposals, upcoming trips, and a hundred other things that normally call for my attention.

And if you respond, “But my meetings are boring,” then take a look at another recent note about how we can make our meetings more meaningful with better thought and planning on the front end.

Bedford Springs Resort

Bedford Springs Resort

By being fully present in our discussions and meetings with colleagues, friends, and family, I believe we can make our lives better.  That’s going to be my goal moving forward, and perhaps you’ll want to join me.

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

P.S. – For the retreat, we stayed in a wonderful historic hotel – the Bedford Springs Resort – in Bedford, Pennsylvania.  Revitalization News had a great story about how the restoration of the hotel had also rejuvenated the nearby town.  Check it out.