My name is Kevin and I’m a multitasker. I need help. It starting to happen more and more often. I’m sitting eating a bowl of soup and I’m thinking, “I should be checking my email while eating, I’m wasting time.”. I’m on the phone having a conversation, I open Facebook, then LinkedIn, “yes of course I’m listening to you”, whats happening on Twitter, I should go through the last proposal, got to maximise my time, wonder if I can listen to the latest talk on TED while talking, “yes, I know, that’s terrible, what it’s not? um sorry can you repeat the story.”. If I am not multitasking, I am left with a feeling of panic that I am wasting time, when in reality the opposite is true.
A great example of the ever busy, doing, multi-sensory society we live in is restaurants. Pioneering this fad in the early ninety’s , Sports Cafe’s were the start of this downward trend in human relationships. Come to a restaurant with friends, each table has its own screen, and if you find the conversation boring, well you can zone out and stare at the screen while appearing to be in conversation. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a restaurant without a TV screen. The next time you are in a restaurant, have a look at the amount of people sitting at a table together but either engaged with text messages on their cellphone or staring at a TV screen, while the people in their immediate vicinity are ignored and clearly disengaged from any personal interaction.
In business, the problem is compounded further by the many modes of communication we have available. Phones, cell phones, text messages, numerous email accounts, instant messaging, skype etc. are just a few of these. We have made ourselves so contactable that we don’t have any time to spend with the people who are lucky enough to get hold of us. I have been in management meetings where every single person in the room (except the one speaking) is answering email. I have been the boss who listened with one ear to a team member while continuing an online conversation in order to satisfy both parties. The unfortunate result is neither is satisfied. People know when we do not give them our full attention. In the end our relationships with our colleagues and staff suffer, leading to further problems for the company down the line. In order to grow people we need to give them our attention. Half the attention will yield half the results.
We are living in a society that encourages multitasking. We are bombarded by messages all around us that tell us we have to do more. Use the tools, maximise your time, communicate and connect, do more with less. The sad fact of the matter is the more we do, the less we experience. Our minds are only capable of a certain bandwidth of experience. So while we might be able to be physically present in a conversation and type a text message at the same time, the reality is we are missing out on being mentally present with the person we are having a conversation with. When it comes down to it, our lives are an accumulation of our experiences. There is nothing more. Even the possessions we collect along the way mean nothing if we cant experience them. By multitasking we are cheating ourselves out of fully experiencing the very things we engage with. Human or inanimate, multitasking removes us from being directly engaged and the full experience.
My suggestion is that we keep a time and place for multitasking. I think a few ground rules would serve us well in this regard and here are my top five suggestions:
- Try not to multitask when interacting with others. Apart from being rude, it robs you of the experience of the interaction.
- Remind yourself that the value of time is in your experience during that time, not how much you can get done.
- In business, focus on the task at hand. Set aside time for email, and messages. Don’t be ruled by interruptions of a digital nature.
- Set aside a technology free day, once a month or once a week if you can manage. It brings about a sense of reality to the connection chaos.
- Learn to switch off, and take back control on when to be contactable. This way you will be very present in your interactions without distractions.
I have to check my mail now and answer the phone so good luck with the suggestions. Seriously though, once the panic settles and you decide when to multitask, you will be more effective and engaged than ever before. So take back control. Create your life.