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Multitasking Is Making You Less Effective as a Boss and Employee

Focus on one task, one person at a time and be great, not good

Photo illustration by AndreyPopov from Getty Images

Is it possible to be “too busy” these days? Of course, it is. We are all too busy — at work, at home, at play. We don’t have enough hours in the day! We want to achieve, to do things, go places. We also want to be healthier. So we look for time to exercise, time to eat better, time to plan (and you have to make time to shop for healthier food, and time to prepare it!). In addition, we want to relax, have fun, enjoy life. If we work hard, we play hard. And I haven’t even mentioned your job, yet. Yikes!

I used to pride myself on multi-tasking. I could talk to people while answering my emails. I could write speeches while I watched webinars. I could compose blogs while attending meetings. Yep, I felt I was the king of multi-tasking! But, I wasn’t. I wasn’t achieving results nearly as well as I might have.

So you think you can multitask?

Once I read the book The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw, I truly understood how ridiculous I was. Since that moment, when someone came into my office to talk to me, I shut my laptop and listened. When someone asked me for some advice, I stopped everything else I was doing and listened and talked and helped. I learned to “exclude outside distractions and competing influences” and focus on the person/the job at hand.

So being too busy was a choice. It was the never-ending drive to achieve more, to be more, to do more, to be involved more. But, “more” wasn’t the same as “more simultaneously.” Separating each task actually helped me get even more done. I know that sounds crazy. “How could you get more done if you quit doing 2–3–10 things at once and separated them all out?”

Well, I certainly didn’t do things partially. I did things individually and to completion. I was at a higher performance level, and my focus allowed me to finish tasks/jobs faster than when I was trying to multi-task. You can certainly argue that there was no way I was going to take on as much — and that may be true.

But you could also discern I was performing at a higher level, and I refused to pay partial attention to people. I declined to turn in work that was “reasonably done” (rather than WELL DONE), and I decided that, by addressing one task at a time, I was doing my very best and just flat doing better work.

Busyness isn’t as virtuous as you think

But, that’s a topic (a complete topic, to be sure) for another time. This time we’re discussing the concept of busyness. We view being occupied with stuff, being active with activities, having a multiplicity of jobs to do as a wonderful thing. We actually become accustomed to being busy, or overactive, or super-stimulated and we accept that as our natural state!

We actually LIKE being engaged on multiple levels. It makes us feel useful, and needed, and accomplished. However, are we truly achieving our potential? Are we actually accomplishing tasks on a high level? Is there a better way to tackle our jobs? And, most of all, are we excluding others and missing opportunities by being busy?

That’s the key point I want to make — being too busy for others. Ignoring the needs, requests, and input of others, losing the opportunity to engage with those who come to you.

I recall going to see my new boss for the first time in his large, imposing office. I was coming to him with what I felt was the paramount problem with our business, and I had a few ideas for solutions I wanted to run past him. I had barely gotten a description of the issue out of my mouth when his cell phone went off.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I have to take this. Just take a second.”

I honestly don’t remember who he talked to, but when he hung up the phone, he simply said, “Continue!” So, I started over with the story, and about eight minutes into our discussion his computer went “DING” (obviously an email arrived) and he immediately turned his chair around to read it. After about 30 seconds of awkward silence, he turned around and again said, “Sorry, continue!”

Honestly? I rapidly finished the description of the issue and told him we were working on it. Two weeks later, I quit. He was actually astonished that I was leaving. I never told him why (I should have), but it was because he made me feel forgotten, because he was too busy for me.

As a boss, this is your most important task

Are you too busy for your employees? Are you too busy to pay attention to how your employees perceive you? Do you believe you’re doing your best work when you’re multi-tasking (or attempting to multi-task)? If you truly are, congratulations to you and I hope you are correct.

But for the majority of us (hey, science has proven it), multi-tasking is actually multi-distracting. Try focusing on your employees — individually — and listen to what they have to say. Try giving them your undivided attention.

Stop the Pavlovian response (you know, the dog and the bell routine) every time your computer, watch, or laptop notifies you of an email, message, or text. (I turned notifications off, and actually took an afternoon off — on Fridays — from electronics; it worked great!)

Let your employees know you DO care — and that you DO listen — and that nothing is more important than what they have to say. Take on those tasks individually. (You don’t have to do them in succession, just focus and practice good time management so you can do your absolute best.)

And if you disagree with me, keep on multi-hacking (err, tasking) and all the best.

But — call your mother. She doesn’t like to be forgotten or ignored, either! Call her!

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on October 26, 2021.

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