The term “multi-tasking” began as a technical term describing computers that could do more than one thing at a time. As computers became more common in the workplace and society, humans soon were expected to perform the same way – and the term began applying to a human ability to do more than one thing at a time. Before long, as we were exposed to more and more information through the internet, e-mail, instant messages, phone calls and meetings, some viewed the ability to multi-task as a prerequisite for success and productivity.
Over the years, we’ve been able to appreciate multi-tasking for what it is – a habitual behavior creating a false sense of accomplishment by allowing the multi-tasker to cross things off a list without giving complete attention to any one thing. The multi-tasker is undoubtedly very busy. The reality is crossing things off a list doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity or accomplishment. Furthermore, multi-tasking has become a part of our culture at the cost of focus, thoughtfulness and true engagement. We’ve become a society glued to the little and big screens with a fear that if we put the toys down, we might miss something.
This past week, Harvard Business Review listed the top postings from 2012. The most read article in 2012 was The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, written by Tony Schwartz. If you’ve followed Tony’s writings (among them, The Power of Full Engagement, co-written with Dr. Jim Loehr), you’ll know his research supports alternating periods of intense engagement with periods of intentional disengagement as a way to bring your full and complete energy to what you do. As human beings, we do not work well when continually focused without breaks and when pulled in multiple directions. Working in that environment is not sustainable, and in Mr. Schwartz’ words, has created an energy crisis in our country of a personal nature.
The column above is worth some attention as we head into the new year and the season of resolution. It’s time we appreciate multi-tasking for what it really is – doing more than one thing at a time half-assed. It’s important to set aside time for thought and strategic consideration. Most importantly, in the words of Wally Armstrong (co-author of The Mulligan, with Ken Blanchard), we need to adjust back from humans doing to human beings.
Happy New Year everyone, and remember to Just Keep Pouring!