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CIO Unplugged 8/12/10

August 11, 2010 Ed Marx 112 Comments

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.

8-11-2010 6-25-00 PM

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.

8-11-2010 6-29-21 PM

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.

Update 8/12/10

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.”

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Currently there are "112 comments" on this Article:

  1. No multitasking? This does make you rethink the value of multitasking. Good article that I will try to incorporate into my daily life!

  2. Thanks for all of your “views and opinions”, I find it refreshing to find a dynamic leader that takes leadership seriously. I would love to see the personal strategic plan.
    Thanks,
    An IT Lackey

  3. Great article. I’m often on a call with someone and they will explain a lapse by saying “sorry, I was multitasking”. Which I translate as “sorry, you weren’t very important to me just then.”

  4. A CIO with a heart and soul! Amazing!

    Each of us have exactly the same amount of time each day… but none of us know exactly how much time we have left here in mortality.

    Set your priorities. The distractions are plentiful, and appear important. They lose that illusion when you lose what’s really important. Don’t forget. Don’t delay.

    Love to get the one page plan.

  5. You make some very good points here and yes there is something to say for taking a breather. We have a US Congressman in California that needs some help as he is running for re-election and was pulled over by the police while using his cell phone to do a live radio broadcast which doesn’t serve to be much of a role model for the rest of us, perhaps? He’s one in need of some multi tasking advice maybe? If this had happened back here in California, he would have had a ticket:)

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/2010/08/us-congressional-representative-gets.html

    The problem is definitely at all levels:)

  6. Ed:
    Another great article. Would love to see the one page plan. Keep it up and you will convince me there is one more marathon left in these old bones.

  7. Ed,

    Your posts have been great, and this one on how to avoid multitasking gives HIStalk a new higher level of quality solutions to educate all of us. My thanks go out to Mr. H. for adding you to our posting group.

    TPD!

  8. My wife practices what you preach. I however, do not. She is great at giving people that she is conversing with her undivided attention – even on the phone. I have gotten frustrated when I ask her a question, while on she is on the phone, and she gives me the big crusty look. My comment is “can’t you multi-task”? thinking it is a great personal gift.

    I am constantly trying to get something done in a timely manner even if it means interupting someone else to get an answer. It is time to sacrifice speed (and rudeness) to focus on quality, targeted communication.

    Gulp…I must take yet another lesson from my lovely wife…that’s why we are a team. I just hope she keeps teaching me…

  9. What a great post, Ed. I have been trying my best to apply that same principle of giving my undivided attention when talking to anyone, whether it’s at work or in my personal life and I do believe it’s a sign of respect. The response from the other side has been incredibly positive.
    I’d love a copy of your personal strategic plan.
    Thanks.

  10. Nice perspecitve on the crazy on demand, I need it yesterday world that we live. I would appreciate a copy of your personal document for review. It is about work life balance and finding the right mix.

  11. Ed – This is a great article and I wish we had more leaders like you in thsi world! As I sat herr nodding my head agreeing with you, I realized that I do exactly what you describe with my family way too often. Also, I will no longer be telling people that I’m a great multi-tasker! I think the only place I’m not multi-tasking these days is church!

    Please share your template for your personal strategic plan. I need to develop one for all areas of my life!

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Great read. The temptation to multi-task during meetings is very high, but I think your post puts things in the right perspective.

    Would love to see your plan / template.

  13. Hi Ed,

    More great things to think about, thanks for sharing your exeriences, knowledge and wisdom.

    Could I get a copy of that plan?

    Kind Regards,

    Chris

  14. Ed,
    This is very encouraging during a time when I all-too-often hear “At least you have a job” when unreasonable demands strongly encourage one to work long days and weekends that sacrifice family and relationships. The “love is a verb” phrase is great. Thanks for the encouraging entry, and I appreciate your willingness to share your strategic planning template. It sounds like something I can really use.

  15. I have a more fundamental question.

    Why would anyone ever have thought “multitasking” would do anything BUT distract and reduce the quality of any one task?

    I mean, has common sense died?

  16. In effort to get everything done, it is too easy to lose sight of the fact that this is an impossible goal. There is always more in the queue, and more demands dividing our time. I agree that these ultimately degrade the effect of our effort, especially in our personal interaction. Thanks for the thought provoking article. Looking forward to reading the personal strategic plan!

  17. I have been trying to avoid multitasking for some time now, and it is not as easy to single-thread as one might think. I am having to handle the feelings of guilt that I am not instantly responding! However, the rewards of actually being with another human, and really leaving space to think about the topic at hand, is very rewarding.

    Thanks for the very relevant article, love to get the plan.

  18. Ed,
    Another great post for to mentor us in life and not just work. Thanks for all you do.

    Please send a copy of the plan.

    Thanks again
    Huck

  19. Thanks for the great article! As a multi-tasker, it gives me alot to think about. I’d like to see your strategic plan.

  20. Outstanding article! With all the tweeting, texting, and messaging, people have forgotten the value of human interaction. So I feel it’s even more important now to give your undivided attention to someone when you do talk. I would appreciate a copy of the strategic plan. Thank you!

  21. Wow, I ssee that I am not the only one moved by your post.
    Thanks. I’d love a copy of “the plan” to view whe i’m not in a meeting with my family!

  22. My kids learned the term multitasking at school – not from me – last year when they were in 1st and 3rd grades. I was horrified. This reinforces appropriate values and skills that have to be modeled and reinforced at least as much at home as at work. I would appreciate a copy of your plan. Thanks

  23. Ed I was moved by your concepts revealed in this article. Please send me as many one pagers as you have. I have a real desire to have that same balance and focus in life…work, family and marriage which is now 30 yrs. Thank you in advance!

  24. Ed:

    Great article. Our family has been working on our strategic plan which we plan to rollout before the school year kick off.

    I would love to see a copy of your plan.

    Thanks for the great advise

    John

  25. Your report proves why EMRs are dangerous.Intense cognitive multitasking is exactly what is forced upon the users of the poorly usable EMRs.

    It is the cognitive overload of reading screens of what MIMD calls “legible gibberish” which is why the EMRs cause as many, if not more, mistakes as they correct.

    Doctors and hosptial administrators are advised by this consultant and practicing RN to resist the temptation to be snookered by the financial aid from the government. Do not take the bait.

    The NY Times covered this 2 years ago:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/25/business/yourmoney/25shortcuts.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
    SHORTCUTS
    Multitasking Can Make You Lose … Um … Focus
    …“Although doing many things at the same time — reading an article
    while listening to music, switching to check e-mail messages and
    talking on the phone — can be a way of making tasks more fun and
    energizing, “you have to keep in mind that you sacrifice focus when you
    do this,” said Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of
    “CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!” (Ballantine,
    2006). “Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in
    rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously
    tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three
    balls.”…
    …Dr. Hallowell has termed this effort to multitask “attention deficit
    trait.” Unlike attention deficit disorder, which he has studied for
    years and has a neurological basis, attention deficit trait “springs
    entirely from the environment,” he wrote in a 2005 Harvard Business
    Review article, “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform.”
    “’As our minds fill with noise — feckless synaptic events signifying
    nothing — the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and
    gradually to anything,” he wrote. Desperately trying to keep up with a
    multitude of jobs, we “feel a constant low level of panic and guilt.’”

  26. What a great reminder of what is important! I too would love a copy of your plan and the template so that I can set my own.

    Thank you for sharing!

  27. Excellent points, as my career continues to advance, I realize the importance of a solid and loving family. I’ve had many friends that I have worked with but most have faded back into the workforce as time and circumstances change. If you really want to be focused, try explaining to a little one while you are reading a story that you have to take this call-it is very important. When you come back to finish the story, they are gone.
    I’d like a copy of the personal strategic plan as well it sounds like a perfect framework for personal peace.
    Thanks for the article.

  28. Ed
    Once again a great blog post. Fantastic ideas that I wish more people would incorporate into their lives. I would very much like to see your 1 page plan.
    Thanks for sharing!

  29. Wow Ed,
    You have definitely made an impact in the HISTalk arena. I would love to have a copy of your one-page plan as I would like to incorporate it in my personal life. I feel I do a pretty good job of it in my work life (improvement still needed), but home is definitely lacking. Thanks for the reminder about what’s really important in our lives.

  30. AMEN! The human brain is like a railroad track and can only go in one direction and hold one thought at a time. Just try to think two words at the same time. And, I always thought there was something wrong with me! I think the real message here is ” live in the moment” and make people important – not tasks!

  31. Ed,

    I have a good friend who asks anyone using their PDA while in a meeting, lunch, etc, “Would you like to reschedule this meeting when you don’t have so many pressing issues?” It’s a polite way to stop them dead in their tracks… always works!!

    I’d love a copy of your plan. Great article.

  32. Thank you for this! Interviewed with a start up software firm in this field last year, and the 4 people I interviewed with could not keep their hands off their BB’s. At the same time I was told how fast paced the environment is, blah blah blah. Nothing like answering their tough questions while they just “uh huh…yes…” while clicking their device. It was pretty clear I would not be happy at that company, figured I was just too ‘old’ lol.

    My family has always come first for me, probably why I’m still a worker bee and not a leader, was never willing to give up the former for the latter,

  33. Hi Ed,
    As usual, your blog is so insightful and empowering. I agree with your idea of having strategic plans for career, familiy, and marriage. And I think the earlier I begin focusing on each area with practical goals in mind, the better planned my future will be. I would love to have a copy of any templates you’ve got to offer!

  34. Enjoying the view Says:

    I interviewed with a start up software firm in this field last year, and the 4 people I interviewed with could not keep their hands off their BB’s

    Interviews, remember, are two-way.

    They flunked YOUR interview of THEM!

  35. Thanks, Ed. Very insightful. I can definitely relate on several levels.

    I would also greatly appreciate a copy of your strategic plan template.

  36. Hi Ed,

    Great thoughts – much appreciated!

    I’d be happy to review your plans – I read lencioni’s 3 big questions for a family book about a year ago and am still interested in a personal and family strategic plan, but haven’t done it yet – your plans would be inspirational I’m sure.

    Thanks!

    Matt

  37. I am in agreement with Suzy, RN’s report above, number 44. It supplements what Ed articulately stated. This applies to the problems facing the users of EMRs that require multitasking on multiple pages of EMRs filled with useless information for patient care.

    Thank you Ed, and thank yopu Suzy, RN.

  38. Face-to-face multi-tasking…..so hard to quit, but so important to solid relationships. Years ago I had a mentor show me the power of turning off your PC monitor and muting your phone when somebody asks for time in your office. It’s a simple, but extremely powerful testimony to the person requesting your time that, at that moment, their needs are your highest priority.

    Couldn’t agree more Ed….

  39. I’ve been practicing this for a while, and although it’s hard to always retain focus with multiple competing demands, it’s really much more satisfying. I do better work, and I think people around me are happier to have my attention when they expected to receive it. Plus, I can’t really multitask anyway, just switch really quickly, so multitasking isn’t actually saving me any time.

    What’s also interesting with this approach is that the “noise” just gets ignored. Stupid emails or tiny unimportant tasks that I might have previously done while doing something else more important I no longer do, and since they are not high enough priority to warrant my focus they often never get done. I don’t see this as a bad thing…

    I think Suzy, RN has officially failed the Turing test now; she was able to turn even this into an immediate safety risk to our patients. Kudos to the programmer, though, it was a great challenge!

  40. Thank you ufor sharing Ed – makes you think about life and management differently – i woudl like to see a copy of your plan.

  41. Your words are very inspiring! I enjoyed your your writing when I was at UH and am happy to have discovered your writings again here.
    I would be interested in the personal strategic planning too.

    Thank you.

  42. Please send me a copy of your personal plan.

    In the spirit of open discussion, to me, “multi-tasking” is a loaded word and gives a monolithic projection. There are aspects of multi-tasking that are desirable, from neurological, brain-plasticity perspective. As a new phenomenon, this requires more study and of course, i am not recommending that anyone text or browse HIStalk while driving a car, boat, train, airplane,..

  43. Great article, thanks for sharing. I see multitasking as the anti-productivity activity. I’d love a copy of the plan.

    Thanks!
    Mike

  44. And I thought it was just ADD when it was actually multi-tasking that has left me scatter brained! I would like a copy of the plan.

  45. Great article. I’ve recently been reminded by my Princess that the BB needs to be put away while we play Uno, Battleship, Aggravation, etc. Undivided attention is a gift to give and receive. Thanks for the reminder and the offer of your plan! :^ )

  46. Great post again, Ed. Must admit I am guilty at times but I try to catch myself and re-focus. Many on our leadership team suffer from this and I intend to share your post with them. I’d also appreciate a copy of the plan.

    Thanks!
    Doug

  47. OK, I’ll be the naysayer. While the goals are laudable, I believe that in today’s economy and society, that eliminating multitasking is unrealistic.

    So Ed, are you saying that you are always home at 6 p.m.? Seriously, as a CIO of a major institution, you don’t have evening meetings once in a while?

    Also, while it’s important to make time for your family, does that mean that you can’t multitask? Or are we confusing rudeness with multitasking. For instance, checking your blackberry at dinner is rude. Checking your blackberry during a presentation that doesn’t pertain to you or that you’ve seen isn’t necessarily rude.

  48. MIMD – Bingo. Didn’t get that particular job, but was called out of the blue to interview for another position 6 mos later and said ‘Thanks, but no thanks’.

  49. Please send your program to me.

    Suzy, RN is not all that bad. I would never have known about the extensive work Hallowell has done. Multi-tasking=multi-firing neurons and over worked synapses. These are not good for creative scientific thought required in patient care. Shallow thought does not cure complex illness. EMRs direct shallow thought and shallow care. QED

  50. Great blog post. But you don’t think some multitasking (everything in moderation) is helpful to getting things done? After all, I took the New York Times test you linked to and actually scored higher with additional distractions, which is actually how I function best in real life as well (to a point).

    In an ideal world, I would be able to gracefully excuse myself from every meeting that I don’t think I should be in so that I could fully focus on the things I ought to be working on, but sometimes it’s just not possible.

  51. As I sift through the 150 daily emails tonight, catch up on my favorite TV shows, and plan for tomorrow’s meeting all while surfing HISTalk I just had an ah-hah moment after reading this post. I need help, please send me your personal strategic plan!

  52. Bravo! Your best post ever! This is a struggle! I must be more intentional. My 15 yr old daughter & I are working through “30 Days – Turning the hearts of Parents & Teenagers Toward Each Other” by Dr. Richard Ross & Dr. Gus Reyes. Exceptionally unique! Promotes total focus on ea other & sharing at a deep level! Takes 10-15 min ea day. Is priceless! Did it w my now 21 yr old daughter…difficult to describe the deep conversions & how our relationship strengthened! We have never seen ea other the same since. Total focus! Total attention…letting ea other in…impossible during multitasking. Thanks Ed! Wld like the form.

  53. Thank you for the great article – it’s so refreshing to hear an executive espousing and living a balanced life.

    I started banging the “stop multitasking to improve productivity” drum about 10 years ago, trying to get more predictability/manageability in our software development projects.

    Would you please send me a copy of your strategic plan template and your plan? I’ve heard of personal strategic plans before and they make utmost sense, but I’ve never gotten around to creating one (probably b/c it wasn’t on any plan!). Thanks!

  54. Thanks for another great post, Ed. I appreciate the perspective as we all tend to get caught up in our to-do lists and lose sight of the bigger picture at times. Please send me a copy of the plan.

  55. Ed — I would love a copy of your strategic plan. As with many who have commented, this blog was convicting. I have been guilty of “multi tasking” countless times and the more I multi task the more I realize I am not effecient or effective at any task. Thank you for a great post!

  56. It is an amazingly simple concept, as most good ones are.

    In college (many moons ago) my accounting professor would not take a phone call when you had taken the time to come to his office to talk with him. The result, you had his undivided attention. Kudos Mike Emerson!

    I would like to review your plan as well.

  57. Ed- A great reminder that people are important. I passed it to my adult children as well!

    Please send me a copy of your strategic plan. thanks for keeping us thinking about how we are perceived when we lose focus!

  58. Ok, I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I am old and somewhat observant, so I have to add my two-cents in saying there really is no such thing as multi-tasking other than on the subconscious level. Our subconscious brain can evidently multi-task roughly a gazillions things, but the conscious brain – only one at a time. You may think you’re multi-tasking, but you’re not. That’s why it’s a “distraction” to read email while someone is talking to you, or drive while phoning. You are actually giving short shrift to both tasks, as your brain flutters back and forth between the two (or more) at variable rates, depending on signals that indicate time to lag on this one… then maybe time to lag a little on that one, etc.

    (Sorry. I’m back. Just had to see who was calling my cell.)

    All this typically happens with such speed that it may seem like multi-tasking, but I’m not convinced.

  59. Nice article ! – it’s the basis of several productivity debates here at work (and at home)…
    Would love to have a copy of your 1-page personal plan/template.
    Thanks!

  60. Great Article! I have coined a term just for this same situation. I call it the “Whataburger Syndrome.” They are so wrapped up in suggestive selling, or whatasizing to those three cars behind me, that they cannot even connect with me on a one to one basis to make sure my order is correct, or to even count my change back to me. (courteous) . The result is that as an unhappy customer, my visits have been much less frequent, and they can spend all the money they want in advertising, they have lost my hard earned dollars.







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