Friday, December 11, 2009


Recently I read an article on a Stanford University Research Study that showed Media Multi-Taskers pay a mental price. I felt it was a worthwhile blog entry as so much emphasis and pride is placed on one's ability to multi-task. I personally have always been wary of those that feel they can do it all when, personally, I have trouble focusing (and no I don't have ADHD) on more than one or two main priorities. Ahh, but that is the difference. I am managing multiple priorities. Multi-Taskers aren't managing priorities they are trying to do several things at once.

The blog header read, "Think you can talk on the phone, send an instant message and read your e-mail all at once? Stanford researchers say even trying may impair your cognitive control." Following are a few of the researchers points:

  1. They didn't find any talent or gift that came from those that claimed Multi-Tasking proficiency.

  2. Low MTs (Multi-Taskers) had better memory than high MTs.

  3. High MTs have difficulty filtering out the irrelevant.

If I may be so bold to extrapolate this in my own words, High MTs may be problematic in many situations. The perception of skill with this activity in and of itself may handicap competence. I remember working with a former employee who always seemed busy. Every time I saw her at her desk, she was clearly occuppied doing work related tasks. Somehow she still struggled with her performance. After our investigation, we discovered she was trying to do too many different things at once. The quality of everything she was doing.... how should I say it, SUCKED. What a great case study against Multi-Tasking. We solved the problem by providing her with guidance on priorities and instructed her to only work on the priority at that moment. After a few months, she was doing more and performing better than she had when she thought her performance evaluation was based on her ability to Multi-Task.

So, here's the problem. As employers and managers, do we encourage and even reward multi-tasking? Do we even see its potential hazard? If were paying someone $15 per hour, do we want that investment focused on everything or the most important things? Should we deploy that $15 /hour on trivial distractions or on vital business growing ventures.

I am reminded of Stephen Coveys, 7 Habit of Highly Effective People. Habit 3 is, Put First Things First. Covey's Time Management Matrix (pg 151) helps to put the MT issue into perspective. "... Leadership decides what first things are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment -by-moment", Covey writes. High MTs may be missing leadership that helps them identify where their time should be spent. Are you (your employees) managing the approprite Quadrant?

It's time for all of us to focus on the critical and important and realize that if we miss the other stuff, we'll probably be better off anyway. Also, I didn't perform any other tasks while writing this blog entry.

Honorable mention goes to @ErickTaft who tweeted "Ignoring the details is the problem w multi-tasking. Leads to sloppy work & poor relationships."

You can follow me on twitter @TerrenceWing but only if its a priority : >

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