Home > Clients, Focus > “Multitasking is a myth” – Why your team isn’t delivering results!

“Multitasking is a myth” – Why your team isn’t delivering results!

Lately, I’ve been bombarded with new clients facing challenges in better understanding the performance (or lack there of) issues they seem to be having with their teams. 9 out of the 10 cases I examined, on the surface at least, seem to be simple cases of focus & concentration on what’s important to drive results. This afternoon, as yet another client complained of the distracting chatter between colleagues in the background, I pointed them to a NYTimes.com article I read a few months ago entitled Ear Plugs to Lasers – The Science of Concentration.

In it, there are fabulous & easy to immediately implement words, or practices, of wisdom. Here’s my highlight (found close to the end of the article) ; She (Winifred Gallagher) recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine (which does help attention) before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption.

“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime. “People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said.

Pretty simple common sense, no? Imagine your brain going through a reboot cycle for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day! So next time you walk around the office wondering why your teams are missing their targets, maybe it’s not that the targets aren’t realistic, but rather that between the “n” mobile phone text messages, Skype chatter/alerts, and endless dialogue about everything under the sun, no one is really focused on the most important task at hand. Asking themselves; what significant thing can I do in the next 90 minutes that will significantly impact my performance and attainment of objectives?

If your team isn’t delivering the performance you expect, and you’re confident that you’ve done everything right so far, then maybe it’s time to stop asking yourself what you’re doing wrong, and rather have your team ask themselves; “What am I doing right now? and What should I be doing differently to improve my performance? This last bit is part of a behavior kinetics research I’m doing whilst reading Performance: The Secrets of Successful Behaviour by Robin Stuart-Kotze.

And YES, watch this space this week as there will be at least 3 more blog articles, containing tools, tips, tricks & real world experiences regarding Accelerating,  Sustaining, and the dreaded Blocking of Performance.

Remember my favorite saying; “the execution of an idea is always more important than the brilliance of the thought”!

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  1. August 30, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    I just read a tweet by Stowe Boyd where he writes..

    A recent Stanford study suggests that multitasking does not indicate any special cognitive advantages to getting things done, which surprised the researchers and caused glee to percolate through the media circus:

    [via The Mediocre Multitasker by Ruth Pennebaker]

    Read it and gloat. Last week, researchers at Stanford University published a study showing that the most persistent multitaskers perform badly in a variety of tasks. They don’t focus as well as non-multitaskers. They’re more distractible. They’re weaker at shifting from one task to another and at organizing information. They are, as a matter of fact, worse at multitasking than people who don’t ordinarily multitask.

    You know what this means. This means that the people around you — the husband who’s tapping the computer keys during an important phone conversation with you, the S.U.V. driver with the grande latte and the cellphone, the dinner companion with the roving eye and twitching thumbs — are not only irritating, they are (let’s not be fainthearted) incompetent.

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