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Where is all this multitasking getting us?

multitasking is hurting your new product development processesChief Executive Magazine recently took leaders to task in an article that hits one of the problems of multitasking on the head. What message does multitasking send to those around us?

Multitasking, whether as an organization or individually kills focus and reduces productivity and innovation and among other areas the development of new products. The real underlying issue is that we delude ourselves into thinking that activity is what’s important when it’s results that really count. That and showing those around us that we’re interested in what they have to say at least as much as catching up on emails!

In Simplifying Innovation, I refer to the electronic distractions as DADS or Device Deficit Attention Syndrome. That’s when people don’t think there’s anything wrong with stopping in mid-conversation to pick up their mobile phone to see who was calling or texting them. The implicit message being that if it was someone more important, they might take the call. Even worse, during meetings they constantly check email on their laptops or phones, and even pause to send replies–the false economy of multitasking, like heroin to an activity junkie.

One simple solution is a box where these devices are surrendered and kept during meetings. I know, it might seem too much like a teacher taking away toys, but it achieves two important things:

  1. It eliminates the distraction.
  2. It makes the meeting leader aware that the meeting is taking people away from something else they’d just as soon be doing so they must work to keep the meeting focused, relevant, and productive.

Here’s another article on multitasking that you might find interesting

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Justin Roff-Marsh August 2, 2010, 10:50 am

    Nice post, Mike!

  • Ruthann Swain August 3, 2010, 10:52 am

    Very relevant topic, I love the meetings where the leader makes everyone put their "toys" away, there is more interaction, more voices are heard and it seems consensus is easier to come by and keep.

    Great post, thanks!

  • Carl Chilley August 4, 2010, 10:32 am

    I use meeting etiquette to not only curtail the use of "toys" but also to bring focus to the meeting or session. I also learnt a long time ago that being in the "now" allows me to be far more aware of what I am doing and allows me to really concentrate on the task at hand. Trying to oscillate (or is that vacillate?) between multiple competing things diminishes not only my concentration but also my creativity, even though I know that I get some of my best ideas when the subconscious gets to work.

    I have to disagree with Ram re personal organisational skills. A common theme amongst all of the time planning pundits is that capturing everything somewhere takes it out of your brain and allows you to focus on the thing at hand. Equally, rapid switching between tasks is not always rapid, as there is always a degree of latency when moving from one thing to another. I may be doing Ram a disfavour as he may be one of those rare people who has almost zero latency when switching and, if so, I apologise. But for most folk switch over latency is a real issue and actually increases the time to complete a task when "multi-tasking".

    Good and thought provoking article – thank you.

  • Michael A. Dalton August 5, 2010, 8:50 am

    The following article link offered by Nicos Leon on the Theory of Constraints Linked In group discusses the neurological reasons that people are happiest when they have two things to work on. But (and this is a big but) also shows that most of us are incapable of doing two separate cognitive tasks simultaneously. Instead they switch task.

  • Richard Dunn August 24, 2011, 10:00 am

    I would say that is just a Lack of common courtesy, and not multi-tasking. I do agree the “More with Less” approch that alot of companies are going to, hurts the business more then helps. It is all about the bottom line today, not the long term effects down the road. More work + More Hours + Same Pay = Less Networth of the Employee = Burn out in the end = Less Quality product or service for the end customer. Which moves their business to other companies.

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