Today, I’m going to present you with a challenge. It may be difficult for you. It might even shake you up a bit. We’ll see. Before we begin, if you’re doing something else while you’re reading this -- you’ll have to stop. This requires your full attention. Okay, are you ready? Read on…
We’ll begin with a question. Think before you answer. Focus. Here it is: Are you pretty good at multitasking?
If you answered in the affirmative -- Hah! -- Wrong answer. You just think you are. You bought into a lie. You’ll need to continue reading. If you answered “no” to the question -- Congratulations! You get a gold star! You can stop reading and go do something else.
In Dave Crenshaw’s book entitled, The Myth of Multitasking, he writes there are three consequences of multitasking. (1) tasks take longer, (2) mistakes increase, and (3) stress levels increase.
Here’s an illustration of what happens when people try to multitask: I was picking up a few items at a store. I walked up to check out and there was a lady in front of me. I watched as she handed the clerk a coupon for one of her items. The clerk told the lady she thought one of the other things she planned to buy might also have a coupon and she told the lady she’d get the sales flyer and check that for her. As she reached for the flyer, the phone rang. She had a conversation with the caller in the middle of the first transaction. The lady and I stood there -- captive -- and waited.
The phone customer must’ve had a question about an advertised sale item because the clerk told the caller she would check. She already had the flyer in her hand, remember? She looked at it, gave the person on the phone a price of an item, and then said, “You’re welcome,” and hung up. She apologized to the lady who had to wait, rang up the rest of her purchases, gave her the total, and the lady started to write a check.
A break in the action. To the clerk, I said, “It’s hard to do two things at once, isn’t it?” The clerk said, “Oh no! I’m a great multitasker. I can do seven different things at once and I’m really good at it!” I didn’t say a word but you know what I was thinking, don’t you?
The store clerk took the lady’s check, gave her a receipt, her bagged items, and said, “Thank you.” The lady started to walk away. Meanwhile, the cashier started to scan the items I had. In the middle of that, the first lady came back, interrupted the clerk and said, “You forgot. You were going to see if one of the things I bought had a sale coupon.” Oops.
The clerk hesitated for just a moment. I could tell she was trying to recall. She told the lady she was sorry and that as soon as she was finished with me, she’d look for that coupon. The lady stood there. The clerk told me the amount I owed her. I paid the clerk, she gave me my receipt, the things I purchased, and she reached for that flyer again.
Obviously, the store clerk who said she was such a great multitasker -- was mistaken. Her tasks took longer, her mistakes increased, and so did her stress level. I’m pretty sure the lady who was in front of me experienced an increase in her stress level too. Trying to do more than one thing at a time is just not an efficient use of your time. You just think it is.
In our attempts to get more things done -- at work -- at home -- or wherever we are -- multitasking can result in some unintended consequences. Just ask the woman who was at a mall -- walking and texting at the same time -- who fell into a fountain. Or the guy who was walking down the street, texting on his phone when he walked right into a pole. Multitasking with unintended consequences.
Since when did it become acceptable to be rude to your co-workers, your customers, your clients, your office support person, or the attorney you work for? Rude? We don’t intentionally set out to be rude to others --but sometimes -- that’s exactly what multitasking does.
Ever been in the middle of a conversation in a co-worker's office and they stop to check their email?
In a meeting with a number of other people when you notice someone is fiddling with their phone? The person who is paying attention to their phone is no longer paying attention to what’s happening in the meeting.
You’re talking on the phone with a client. You’re typing something while you’re listening to the client’s story. Suddenly, you realize there’s silence. What happened? The client asked you a question but you missed it.
You’re attending an out-of-town conference, heading into the first scheduled meeting. As you’re walking into the room, you see a sign on the door that tells you to turn off your phone. It’s common courtesy. You turn off your phone. You sit down, reach for your laptop and turn it on. The lecture begins. You think it’s a great opportunity to work on that document you started earlier.
In all those examples, the common thread is rudeness. The person who checked their email in the middle of a conversation was rude to their co-worker. The person fiddling with their phone was rude to everyone in the meeting. The person who was typing and talking on the phone to their client was rude to the client. The person who turned off their cellphone but worked on their laptop was rude to the conference speaker.
Those examples are not unusual. Things like that happen all the time and now that’s “normal” behavior. Wait a minute. If that’s normal behavior, then when did being rude to others become acceptable?
Still convinced you’re a pretty good multitasker? No, you aren’t. You just think you are. Try doing just one thing at a time. You might find that you actually do save time, make fewer mistakes, and your stress level will go down. What do you have to lose? How about the bonus of avoiding the embarrassment of being called out for being rude?