We return phone calls while running errands. We prepare a report while attending a meeting or cooking dinner. We send a flurry of texts or social media updates while at our child’s game. We go to our dentist/doctor/haircut appointment while on a conference call.
We give everything and everyone a little piece of our attention all at the same time. Which constantly results in:
- Missing your exit and driving to the wrong location because you were so distracted.
- Wasting precious minutes trying to regroup and refocus with what all you’re trying to accomplish.
- Having your hair stylist/doctor/pharmacist/trainer/dentist/photographer ask you to get off your phone so they can actually help you with what you’re paying them for.
- Double-booking your calendar on a regular basis either by choice or by accident.
- Making simple or “careless” mistakes on tasks you’ve done a million times.
- Saying, “I’m sorry, what was the question?” or “Could you repeat that?” when you get caught not paying attention to the conversation.
- Setting off the smoke detector (again) because dinner is burning.
Note: it took me all of 4.3 seconds to come up with the list above from previous personal experience. No imagination necessary.
I’m reading an excellent book titled, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (of Keller Williams Realty). Their chapter on multitasking includes significant research that shows multitasking doesn’t save time, it wastes time. The research also shows the damaging effects constant interruptions and switching tasks have on our stress, effectiveness and our relationships.
But more than research, the multitasking chapter holds powerful gems like these:
“In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged and nothing gets its due.”
“It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”
“The people we live with and work with on a daily basis deserve our full attention. When we give people segmented attention, piecemeal time, switching back and forth, the switching cost is higher than just the time involved. We end up damaging relationships.” Dave Crenshaw
Well. When you put it that way.
Here are 4 ways I’m saying no to multitasking and yes to productivity and presence:
- Have one project open at a time. I don’t need to know what’s trending on Twitter while I’m writing a blog post. If I can see the email count in my inbox while I’m writing, I’m tempted to pop over and respond right now instead of when I’m finished.
- Disable notifications and sounds on all devices. If I open my phone to text and then see 47 notifications from different apps, I check those apps and then never send the text.
- Put up a sign on my office door to stop well-meaning interrupters. Your sign can be sweet or sassy, just make sure it communicates the point: “You are so important to me I want to give you my full attention. My full attention is focused elsewhere right now. Please send me an email or come back at X time when I can give you my best.” (Or if you lead in ministry, maybe you add a little sass and quote Nehemiah 6:3.)
- Only schedule one appointment at a time with travel/decompress/runover time around it. We do not have teleportation devices yet. So why do we think we can be in two places at once?
A final quote from The ONE Thing:
“When you try to do too much at once, you can end up doing nothing well. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.”