Jabbering about multitasking was all the rage as cell phones began to blanket the world. There was talk of greater productivity because doing two things at once would quite obviously cut the time needed to accomplish both. Just do the math, right? Turns out what was obvious just ain’t so, and, oddly, there is a huge price that we pay for our task doubling.
Let’s start with the basics: there’s no such thing as multitasking. What actually happens is that our brain rapidly shifts back and forth between the tasks and the result is counter-intuitive: It actually takes more time to complete the tasks that way than if they had been done sequentially. But that’s not the important part.
The studies have shown that when we multitask we actually do a lower quality job of both chores.
So, when you drive and talk on your cell phone, you’re actually doing a lower quality job of holding up your end of the conversation, but, far worse, you’re doing a terrible job of driving. In fact, study after study have shown that talking on your phone while driving is the safety equivalent of driving drunk. Actually, it’s worse. And, no, it doesn’t matter if you’re holding your phone to your face or using hands-free, because the problem isn’t your hands; it’s your distracted brain.
Here’s the point for your leadership.
You’re poring over a spreadsheet and Bob raps on your office door, saying, “Got a minute?” And of course you do, so Bob sits down and starts to say his piece, but your eyes are on and off your computer monitor. Bob asks if you’re listening and you say that you are.
But Bob knows he’s only getting a small piece of your attention and because he’s a human being he doesn’t like being blown off, which is exactly how he feels. In other words, you tried to multitask and did a lousy job of listening and chipped away at your relationship with Bob. Plus, of course, when he leaves you have little idea what he was talking about and your spreadsheet now has errors in it.
So, focus solely on listening when people are talking to you. It will make all the difference. It’s what great leaders do.
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