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The Big Picture
Rebecca "Becky" Coates Nee, a veteran TV news anchor/reporter, is a professional life/career coach. Check out her website at to take the coachability test, subscribe to her free "Beyond the Box" newsletter and to find out if you're an adrenaline junkie.

Multi-tasking: Getting Nowhere At Internet Speed
By Rebecca Coates Nee, Transitions Coach
August 13th, 2001

STOP! Try to read this column without instant messaging your co-workers, eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut AND watching the latest news, stock, weather, sports and Britney Spears updates on CNN's thoroughly-modern, stress-inducing Headline News format. Can you do it?

The same day the Cable News Network's stepchild re-invented itself, it also released research on the art of multi-tasking - a fancy, new millennium term for what used to belong in a circus.

No one knows how to multi-task better than a broadcaster. We can simultaneously change cameras, drop a story, toss to a live shot and make a rude gesture to the sports anchor - without ruffling our hairspray. So what's the verdict on the art of doing it all?

The University of Michigan researchers found multi-tasking is no more productive than debating Andrea Thompson's reporting abilities (OK - they didn't go that far.) The study concludes that the amount of effort workers spend switching their brains off one subject and onto another decreases the quality of their performance. Turns out all our fancy time-saving devices like Palm Pilots and cell phones have had the opposite effect of what the Information Age was supposed to do.

Instead of giving us more time to play, we now have more ways to work while we're playing. The result: an insatiable need to know more, see more and do more - all faster than an oily-faced teenager can flip the fry basket at MacDonald's.

The popularity of multi-tasking has been a big boon for my profession: coaching. No matter whom the client is and what their goals are, the core of coaching is all about time management. When clients first call, they are also driving a car, doing laundry or scouring their office floor for lost keys. They want a coach to help them learn how to do even more, faster. They're shocked when we taskmasters ask them to cut their schedule by 50 percent and try sitting still for five minutes - no e-mail, no stock tickers, no CNN.

"WHAT?" Is the common reply. "You want me to do NOTHING?" The thought is preposterous. Until they try it.

Suddenly, they have a solution to the problem that had been bugging them for the last week. Finally, they know where to find those lost keys. At last, they realize how trivial some of their troubles really are.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote that "all man's miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone." Then again, he didn't have cable.