Turn Off the Information Please!
Uncontrollably Linked In?
If any of these terms describe your behavior, you’re not alone. The promise of constantly connected personal and professional lives has left many feeling disillusioned (and less productive). A January 2011 McKinsey Quarterly article, Recovering from Information Overload, explains why “Always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy.”
First, multi-tasking simply doesn’t work. The McKinsey authors tell us about Teresa Amabile’s Harvard Business School evaluation of the daily work patterns of more than 9,000 individuals working on projects that required creativity and innovation.
“They found that the likelihood of creative thinking is higher when people focus on one activity for a significant part of the day and collaborate with just one other person.”
In short, multi-taskers always lose. A previous Seven Story Learning post here tells more reasons why.
Second, even if we could multi-task effectively, compulsive multi-tasking tends to shift priorities away from the most strategic projects to less important projects. While we may gain a sense of accomplishment from checking items off a “to-do” list, most of us tend to avoid the most challenging issues.
“More often than not, it’s procrastination in disguise.”
Third, willpower alone may not be enough to solve the multi-tasking problem. Increase your chance of success by systematizing your approach. Some healthy habits to begin:
- Set expectations with your team and explain how single-tasking will increase efficiency. “I may not check email more than X times per day, because I’m going to be focusing on the top-priority ABC project in the morning and the ultra-important DEF project in the afternoon. Are you comfortable with that?”
- Turn everything off several times a day. Shut down email, texting, and everything else for as long as you dare. Experiment. Can you extend this period to one hour? Two hours? Most people who try this approach are pleasantly surprised that the world does not come to an end.
- Begin blocking off longer periods on your calendar for the projects which require a creative, innovative, thoughtful approach. (Doesn’t this describe most of you most important projects?)
The single-tasking approach shifts people’s mindsets from one in which we passively accept information to an active mindset, in which we seek and absorb information on our own terms.