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Mindful Leadership

Multitask at Your Peril!

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This is an old topic worth revisiting because of its significant implications for being an effective leader.  I have been talking about the implications of multitasking for years and it could never be more applicable.

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Stress is so commonplace now; it just seems like a way of life.  Competition is increasingly fierce and global.  The expectations of a 24/7 connectedness is unsustainable and drains energy.  The fear of losing ground keeps us trying to do the impossible.  In an effort to stay afloat we increase our multitasking, which causes even greater stress and makes us less competent.  The research on multitasking has been consistent for decades, but we persist in the face of scientific evidence that tells us that it is not possible to multitask effectively.  In fact, research from Stanford University is startling.  Researchers found that most persistent multitaskers perform badly on a variety of tasks. They don’t focus as well as non-multitaskers. They are more distractible.  They’re weaker at shifting from one task to another and at organizing information.  The multitaskers could not help thinking about the task they weren’t doing. They are in fact worse at multitasking than people who don’t ordinarily multitask.  Read Full Article>>> The Mediocre Multitasker, The New York Times, August 30, 2009

Other research has found similar results.  “Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” said David E. Mayer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.” The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University. The productivity lost by overtaxed multitaskers cannot be measured precisely, but it is probably a lot. Jonathan B. Spira, chief analyst at Basex, a business-research firm, estimates the cost of interruptions to the American economy at nearly $650 billion a year.
Read Full Article >>> Slow Down Multitaskers and Don’t Read in traffic, New York Times

As a leader, in order to be effective, it is important to be present, aware and focused.  Multitasking makes this impossible.  The more we musltitask, the less present, aware and focused we are.  But the greatest danger is that with increased multitasking there comes a time when we find it difficult to not multitask.  When there is no reason to multitask we look for distractions because we can no longer stay focused.  This is where shedding awareness on how we move through our day becomes our greatest ally.  The reality is that we can train our minds either way – to focus or not!  More on this in the Tip of the Week in the coming days.

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