The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Confessions of a Reformed Multitasker
I was wrong. Multitasking is overrated. It’s the thief of our times.
New Years Eve 2008, on a plane en route to our Marx Family Annual Strategic Planning Retreat (above), I read Chasing Daylight. The author, Eugene O’Kelly, was the CEO and chairman of KPMG. At 53, he was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. He quit his job to settle accounts with friends and family and write a book to convey what he learned through the experiences of life and death.
Based on the principles espoused in the book, I added the following to my personal strategic plan:
- Live in the Moment
- Energy > Time
- Consciousness > Commitment
- Create Perfect Moments
The above principles originated from research done by the Human Performance Institute. I attended their “Corporate Athlete” training, where these concepts, and related evidence-based theories, took on renewed meaning. The idea of energy management struck me. I will post on energy management and the fit leader this fall.
Bottom line: if you desire high performance, then don’t multitask. Avoid a multitasking lifestyle if you care about the personal message you are sending people.
Gulp. Seriously? Guilty!
It had to start at home. Almost every evening, I’m home for dinner by 6 p.m. That’s a sacred time. But now, no BlackBerry, no checking messages, no calls, no social media, no vendor meetings. My energy and focus are on my family. Love is a verb. I show my love by giving them my undivided attention. Emotional energy is a relational factor that surpasses time. I don’t tell them, I show them that they are more important than my vocation.
In fact, the stronger the family relationship, the stronger I am as an employee. I find that leading others is a rewarding honor, and by definition, a CIO must give energy to those he serves. I have stopped multitasking where face-to-face encounters are involved.
I still multitask as described in Green Standard Time (above), but never when I’m with people. What message does it send when I’m not fully engaged?
Has your manager ever multitasked while you share your ideas or answer a question? How did it make you feel? Have you had to repeat questions or respond to duplicate inquiries as a result of someone multitasking? How about during conference calls when you call on someone only to get silence…and their phone isn’t on mute. (Guilty)
I wonder how many people I have inadvertently frustrated by having to revisit subjects previously discussed because I’d been trying to juggle tweeting, e-mailing, and preparing a presentation? Was I genuinely in the meeting to begin with?
After observing a leadership meeting, one of my favorite docs admonished the group for focusing more on e-mail than on the discussion. Kudos to him! How much productivity had been lost?
I am a huge advocate of technology and for displacing paper and paper-based processes with automation, but we must exercise balance. Use your iPads, mobiles, tablets, and laptops to conduct business, but be disciplined and remain focused on the subject and people, not your e-mail or twitter feeds. Make time for that later.
For those who still believe they can effectively multitask while still giving appropriate attention to family and staff, try this simple test from the New York Times. A Google search will reveal numerous scientific studies to support my thesis that high performance and multitasking are mutually exclusive. In fact, Stanford researchers found that multitasking may degrade our ability to think clearly, to separate relevance from irrelevance, and to remember and learn. They conclude by saying, “By doing less, you might accomplish more.”
The way I spend my time and invest my energy reveals what I believe most deeply.
***For those who have an interest in strategic planning on a personal basis, please leave a comment. We will send you a copy of my one-page personal strategic plan that contains the principles mentioned above and will provide you with a template from which to create your own plan. I have one-page plans like this for my career, marriage, and family. UPDATE: due to the large number of requests, the plan has been made available for download here.
Thank you for the feedback. Clearly I was not alone in this journey! I will savor the overwhelmingly positive comments because future posts may nor resonate so well.
I do plan to tackle the challenging subject of the fit leader this fall. Good thing I was a soccer referee for so many years. I can handle the crowd when they don’t like my call.
Samantha Brown asked a couple of good questions. First, do I really make it home each evening by 6 p.m.? When I am in town, the answer is yes 98% of the time. I only have one routine after-hours meeting. It is a physician leadership dinner meeting that takes place bi-monthly. I am able to attend the meeting “virtually” from a hospital close to my home. As long as I am back in time for our weekly Argentine Tango lesson (a few doors down), the world is in harmony.
Finally, I did differentiate two types of multitasking. I am a proponent of multitasking, just not when it involves people directly. Are their circumstances when you are with people but you do not need to pay attention? Sure, but I would ask myself, “Is this the best use of my time?” If the answer is no, don’t be part of that meeting.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”