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
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.