Multi-Tasking: What are you going to do about it?

 “Multi-Tasking”. The meaning of the word – and our attitudes about it – has gone full circle.

Years ago, companies demanded employees who “must be able to Multi-Task.”

Then, an avalanche of studies blamed Multi-Tasking-tasking as a productivity killer.

A new study says companies whose employees Multi-Task perform better.

So: to Multi-Task, or not to Multi-Task?

If you like how you manage your work, and have achieved work / life balance, congratulations! Read no further.

If you wonder about Multi-Tasking, and want to work smarter – not harder – read on.

Yes, I read scientific studies. I also watch real people work in real-life situations every day. What follows are my opinions of Multi-Tasking.

If you want answers about Multi-Tasking, first ask yourself some questions:

How old are you?

Up to about age 30, people do better at Multi-Tasking. Later, shifts in the brain’s frontal lobe cause a decline in the ability to Multi-Task.

Where are you located on your career path?

Bright, young people who Multi-Task often look courageous and ambitious – even if they make mistakes. Many managers like that. But when you’ve been around a while, and you keep dropping the ball because of Multi-Tasking you are seen as “non-promotable.”

Do you feel like you are out of control?

Many people who Multi-Task are sucked into it against their will. They don’t know how to stop, and cannot control it.

Are you constantly reacting to crises?

Some people are distracted by any interruption – big or small. They cannot focus on one task. They react to any stimulus, whether it is a crisis or not.

Do you lack confidence in yourself?

Multi-Tasking can be a way of trying to please everybody, all the time, to get approval. It projects an image of someone who thinks their own work is unimportant.

Are you a rude person by nature?  Does your company reward rudeness?

Even nice people can be unaware of the message they send by Multi-Tasking.  Multi-Tasking is a great way to insult others.   Think about it: when you answer the phone and say “I can’t talk now. I’m in a meeting with 10 people.” Congratulations! You’ve insulted eleven people at once! Of course, you or your company may like using insults as a business strategy. Or, you may simply be an arrogant bully. Which is it?

Do you have control issues?

Some people just cannot let go, cannot trust others, cannot delegate. Are they “control freaks?” Control freaks complain about having to do everything themselves – yet they will not ask for help, nor will they train others to help them.  They want to control it all by doing it all, all the time.

What did your manager say in your last performance review?

If your manager said you are scattered, that the quality of your work is suffering, that you need to learn to focus, then you may be using “Multi-Tasking” poorly.

Next week, I’ll offer some opinions about how to control Multi-Tasking, and use it to your advantage.

 

Ann Searles: PEPWorldwide Canada/Caribbean

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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De er en pest og en plage. De er en tidsrøver. Og det er møteplikt. Ja nettopp. Det handler om møter. Igjen!

Uvel møtt (DN-artikkel) forfattet av Cecilie Enger

Norske ledere og en stor del av resten av organisasjonen tilbringer store deler av arbeidstiden i møter. Men mange av møtedeltakerne opplever at store deler av tiden i møter er bortkastet. Cecilie Enger har gjort et ærlig forsøk på å dokumentere riktigheten i denne påstanden. Konsernledelsen i Hafslund har stilt ledermøtet sitt til disposisjon for dokumentasjon og læring av og om møteeffektivitetens hemmeligheter.

I artikkelen kan det se ut som forfatteren stuper rett inn i et ledermøte som er i ferd med å avsluttes. Og hva opplever vi som leser: Leder gruppen sitter og evaluerer seg selv og sine egne bidrag i møtet. Åpenhjertig og ærlig “feedback” på godt og vondt.

Men sånn har det ikke alltid vært. I løpet av det siste året har konsernledelsen i Hafslund endret formen på møtene sine. Antallet møter er halvert og de er blitt svært mye mer effektive. Og deltakerne er svært fornøyd med disse endringene.

Halve dagen i dårlige møter. Nylig kom boken “Livet som leder. Lederundersøkelsen 3.0″ der de siste tallene fra Administrativt forskingsfond ved Norges Handelshøyskole (AFF) viser at toppledelsen i bedrifter med mer enn 100 ansatte i snitt bruker 19 timer i uken i møter. Dette tilsvarer omtrent 40% av den totale arbeidstiden.

 

Hva så med kvaliteten på møtene? Verre er det at 40% av lederne i undersøkelsen svarer at tiden i møtene er bortkastet fordi møtene er dårlig ledet. Dette er resultatet av en studie gjennomført av org. psykologene Henning Bang og Karin Nygaard Øverland blant 80 ledere fra offentlig og privat sektor.

Et under! Henning Bang, er en av landets fremste forskere ved UiO med spesialitet på organisasjonsutvikling og møteffektivisering, og han hevder at majoriteten av moderne arbeidsfolk blir teppebombet med møter. Det er et under at så mange finner seg i å bruke så mye av sin tid på det ene dårlige møte etter det andre.

Henning Bang hevder: «Jeg tror mange ledere (og møtedeltakere) glemmer at poenget med et møte er å produsere noe av verdi». Men verdiene som skal skapes i møter er ikke direkte forbundet med nøkkeltall i et budsjett.

Vi i PEPww har i mange år bistått våre kunder med å forstå dynamikken i møter og analysere seg frem til riktige tiltak for få mer verdifull «output» av interne møter. Ethvert møte løper gjennom 3 faser. Før møte: Planlegging og forberedelser, Gjennomføring: Struktur og disiplin og Etterarbeid: Referat med klare formuleringer om Hvem-Hva-Når i betydningen: Hvem er ansvarlig for hva og når skal resultatet leveres. Vi hjelper kunden til å utvikle: Sånn gjør vi det hos oss…….. type spilleregler. Det dårligste utbytte av møter er der hvor det ikke er utviklet spilleregler eller de er utviklet men de følges ikke.

Henning Bangs oppskrift for gode møter er der møteleder hanker inn diskusjonen når den beveger seg bort fra temaet samtidig som deltakerne selv klarer å hente seg inn når man havner på et sidespor. Gode møter har en kultur for å si fra når møtene er uklare og når man ikke når målene som er satt. Gode møter har en leder som etterspør kvaliteten på møtet i etterkant.

Slik vi ser det i PEPww er noen av de største møtekillerne tilgjengelighet til pc – internett og mobil i møterommet. Husk at den hjernen vi er utstyrt med bare kan være konsentrert om en konkret tanke av gangen. Altså, enten er den (hjernen) ute og svever på internett eller den befinner seg i møtet sammen med gode og effektive kolleger. Vel  møtt!

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Stress. Solution

Clearly there is a huge gap between the results employees are expected to deliver and the energy and calm they have to have to make it happen. Suppose that the mentioned problems have been solved, how would it look like then?

If there is something that you need to do, but it’s not getting done, one of the first places to start is to clear out the clutter around you and inside you. Clutter can block precious new energy from flowing into your life by filling up your world with old stagnant energy that loves to build up and stay right where it is. Clutter in your life might include a messy environment, a pile of paper on your desk, a non organized computer… When we free up this old energy around our space, we feel more lively and energized. And if we can set up a good system, it will help us to take the right actions that will lead us to our objectives.

The same goes for mental clutter. When you get rid of unneeded information, tasks and thoughts, you eliminate the energetic clutter that holds you back. Your mental self-management will create a clear head. You will be able to do the right thing in the right way at the right moment. Your searches will result in finding the right information, leading to better decisions in less time. The improved information processing will also result in time savings with regard to creating and modifying documents. Duplicated efforts within different divisions/projects will diminish. Processes will be better managed. Productivity and sales will increase because employees and customers are able to find the needed information, products and services, and customer satisfaction improves. And as a result of this, you will begin to feel more comfortable.

In order to help people and organizations to have this kind of results, the Personal Efficiency Program (PEP) has been developed as a coaching program to co-create the best possible solutions in making choices and setting objectives, to develop the best information processing techniques, to enhance personal and team success and performance. Based on our extensive experience with hundreds of organizations, in different sectors, and with different dimensions, we can conclude that PEP helps you and your organization to go through a maturity and engagement process towards improved results with less stress.

Hugo Van den Bergh PEPworldwide – Belgium

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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STRESS. WHAT DO WE WANT INSTEAD?

We live in a digital time. Our rhythms are rushed and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate quick reaction more than considered reflection. Expectations related to response time have shrunk from a few days to a few minutes. There is little opportunity to consider decisions or the content of communication. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down.

Most of us are just trying to do the best that we can. When demand exceeds our capacity, we begin to make expedient choices that get us through our days and nights, but take a toll over time. Faced with relentless demands at work, we become easily distracted and feel exhausted. The term 24/7 describes a world in which work never ends. We use words like overwhelmed to characterize our everyday lives. We spend much of our time reacting to unplanned events and making quick decisions with minimal analysis. Feeling forever starved for time, we assume that we have no choice but to cram as much as possible into every day. Job satisfaction is becoming merely a concept.

Considerable research has been conducted on the topic of stress in a variety of settings and disciplines. A common definition includes the negative impact on performance due to stress e.g. caused by information overload and is measured by decision-making ability. If a decision-maker (and we all are) obtains more information than he can process, overload occurs and decision-making ability decreases. Any information received beyond that point will not be processed, may lead to confusion and could have a negative impact on the ability to set priorities as well as remember previous information.

It is not difficult to imagine the affect this has on both individuals and organizations. It is common knowledge that stress, over an extended period of time, has a negative impact on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, including the following symptoms:

  • Poor concentration due to the overloading of short-term memory
  • Multi-tasking often resulting in diminished rather than increased productivity
  • Hurry sickness, which is the belief that one must constantly rush to keep pace with time
  • A chronic state of irritability or anger
  • “Plugged in” compulsion or the strong need to check email and the internet in order to stay “in touch”
  • Lowered immune response, endocrine imbalance, depression and the experience of “burn out”

The causes of these situations will not disappear by themselves. They require thoughtful solutions. An awareness of what is better, combined with an understanding of the symptoms will allow us to generate useful and practical solutions to the problem of stress.

Join us next week when we will explore some solutions to minimize and eliminate STRESS.

Hugo Van den Bergh PEPworldwide Belgium

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Increased availability, are you handling it, or is it handling you? Solution!

Last week I wrote about some of the negative effects  of “always being available” ? This week let us look at some of the solutions.

Firstly, if you think this is challenging, know that there is hope. You can most likely do something about the situation by a few small steps. Though you should also know that the way you perform your work today has created a pattern and a way of working that actually has become a habit. This is your habit, and if you have read anything about changing habits, or as most people you have tried to change a habit, you might have realized that it can be quite hard. You need to force yourself to do (or not do) the thing you have decided upon quite a few times before it starts to feel natural. Psychologists say it takes 21 consistent days on the average to change a habit.  If you miss a day you must start over again.

Now back to what you can do about the increased availability. You need to be assertive and protect the time that you do have available for doing important high value work.

How do you to do this? One way is  to put in chunks of time in your calendar that belong only to you. We call them “appointments with myself”. These chunks of time should be respected by yourself and also others as if it was a client meeting. Unless something really urgent and important occurs of course. When you do this a couple of times per day, realize that you have actually organized yourself so that you can more easily follow your plan.

Another way is to turn off all your notifications announcing new emails arriving. Oh, you say “that is not possible for me! It could be something important…” I agree, then try to create agreements with your colleagues so that urgent and important tasks don’t arrive by email. These items are often better handled by phone or face to face. That way you will not be checking your mail every 5 minutes.

Improve your planning, and stick to what you have planned. Remember that when you once made the plan, it probably made perfect sense, so when it is time for the planned activity, it is time to act, and not start debating with yourself whether or not you should do it. Re-planning, reorganizing or reprioritizing should be done when  conditions change, but don’t go looking for it, because you will always find a reason for not doing something.

Good luck.

By Jojo B. Holst, PEPworldwide Norway

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Increased availability, are you handling it, or is it handling you?

You may not think much about it today, but we have for many years strived to increase our availability. We got cellphones to be able to reach each other outside the office or home, but we still had to go to the office to access the client database or to send an email. This is for most really old fashion thinking in today’s business world. Our availability or accessibility has over the years increased so much that we now with a smartphone in our hands can do about anything anywhere.

What a great thing! We can do whatever we need to do wherever we want to do it and at any time during our 168 weekly hours. Amazing! Or is it? From different opinion leaders we are told that it has never been more difficult for us (in this lane on the information superhighway) to stay focused at the task, or subject, that an increasing amount of people are spending more and more time jumping (mentally) from one thing to another without being able to finish the first one.

The reasons for not finishing a task can be many, but one clear reason for this is because we have become more and more accessible: firstly always being available ourselves and secondly expecting that others should also always be available for us. Or maybe it feels like the other way around? And that is exactly the issue. We have become so available for everyone else that it can be hard to focus on our own priorities, our own tasks  and follow our own plans. If you don’t make and follow your own plans you will most likely be a part of someone else’s plan. Am I saying that this increased availability is not a positive contribution in our mission to do, or perform our daily tasks? No, and let me just be clear, I am not saying the problem is the increased availability itself, it’s what we do with it, and how we choose to handle it, or rather lack of doing so.

What are your thoughts about this? Please share your experiences with us.

By Jojo B. Holst, Man.dir. PEPworldwide Norway

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Email Mess, solutions:

SOLUTION

Like all situations the solution to this email mess is more complicated than identifying the problem.  For purposes of being concise in this blog, the steps needed to be taken are listed in bullet point order.  If you have question or wish a more detailed explanation please email us and we will reply to all questions in detail.

The solutions are divided between Organizational and Individual needs and action steps.

Organizational

  1. Establish protocols as to who is responsible for keeping email communications.
  2. Establish how long information should be kept. (This may need legal counsel input.)
  3. Give clear permission to discard information.
  4. Advise how long emails will be kept on corporate server.
  5. Explain, in user terms, storage capacity limits as far as the Inbox and folder system.
  6. State all information in user-friendly terms.

Personal

  1. Develop and Implement PEP subject based filing system focused on the retrieval of information: 1-Working, 2-Reference, 3-Archive, 4-Personal.
  2. Develop “5-Old Email” Folders for temporary storage of old emails.
  3. Establish what emails have lost all value & delete them.  (in the 80% range)
  4. Identify what emails have “probably” lost value to be placed in the temporary ”5-Old Emails Folders” (in the 15% range)
  5. Determine if several 5-Old Email folders needed to reflect date-aging groupings?
  6. Use electronic calendar to established PEP maintenance schedule and review/discard of 5-Old Email folder/s if used.
  7. Begin moving emails into created email folder system.  Allocate some sufficient time to begin movement of remaining emails to newly created folder system.
  8. Establish how much more time is needed to complete this project.
  9. Set scheduled appointments on electronic calendar to complete project.
  10. Long airplane trips are ideal time to work on this type of project.
  11. New Inbox emails must be addressed daily basis even if older emails are still in Inbox.
  12. Use “Rules” to automatically move Incoming emails into the correct folders.
  13. Embrace rule that there will be “no scroll bar showing in the Inbox at the end of the work day.”
  14. Set “reset times” after vacations or other events which do not allow addressing Inbox routinely.
  15. Use “Out of Office” or other notifications to reduce email follow-ups and give decision making information to others.
  16. Set quarterly system maintenance/update appointments on electronic calendar.

Outcome

After conscientious implementation efforts, supported by several follow-up meetings with their PEP coach, this person commented that “This was hard to do but worth the effort.  I do not see a scroll bar in my Inbox and will never go back to my ineffective way of handling my emails.”

Bary Sherman, PEPworldwide US

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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Email Mess

Current Situation

We were hires to conduct a one-on-one Executive PEP® Program for the senior regional leader of a professional services organization in a major US city.  This leader was very intelligent, professionally competent and respected by both his staff and clients.

Before our first visit we emailed ahead our PRE PEP® questionnaire to learn more about the way this executive worked.  The PRE PEP® questionnaire included such issues as what did he do well, what did he wished he could better, what actions he wanted to stop doing,  how he worked with his executive assistant and how he spent his time.

Reviewing his answers on the PRE PEP® questionnaire was the first order of business as we began his first day of PEP®.

However, it became immediately evident that this person was overwhelmed by the number of emails he received each day. Like most people he had figured out how to work Notes over the years but his organization never offered any structured formal training.  He had over 82,000 messages in his In Box and he “could not find a damned thing.”

A quick check of his use of the various modes of Notes such as Calendar, Email, Contacts and   To Dos indicated a very low level of competency or proactive usage.

We made a decision that we had to address this email crises area before any other issue in order help this person improve his personal productivity and effectiveness.

See us next week, same place, same time for the solution.

Bary Sherman, PEPworldwide US

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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What do you tell a multi-tasker when they’re busy? Solutions:

We mentioned last time that expert time-managers advise people against multi-tasking.

Along with it’s inevitable interruptions, multi-tasking causes adverse psychological and physiological effects, according to the
research we mentioned. So why do we do it? Probably, on the surface at least, multi-tasking seems to be a solution to the everyday problems of unclear objectives and confused priorities.

What has also come to light in recent years is that the brain actually uses up a huge amount of energy (glucose) just in the act of trying to prioritize. It’s part of the reason most of us find prioritizing one of the toughest things to do.

How many people do you know who come into work first thing in the morning and immediately open their e-mail – and spend the rest of their day with e-mail open, reading every e-mail that comes in – no matter what else they’re in the middle of?

When we ask people ‘how many of the e-mails you receive are to do with your own priorities?’, we’ve had answers as low as 20%. Yet people sit, awaiting they’re next e-mail interruption which they’re 80% certain is not a priority they should immediately attend to. (Did you know 39% of e-mail is sent to people sitting less than 100 metres away?). When we ask ‘why do you do it?’ the answer is often simply ‘habit’.

We’ve noticed that two activities can have an amazing effect on people’s energy, focus and ability to prioritize.

1. One is to NOT open e-mail for the first hour of the morning. (Whether you believe you should or shouldn’t do it, it’s helpful to know that reading e-mail uses up a lot of your available ‘prioritizing’ energy. Energy that you have a limited daily supply of). Simply work on your existing priority items as the first thing you do.

2. The second is to only do your e-mail in batches of a half-hour or so per sitting. Decide to open, receive and process your e-mail only at these set times during a day. Your type of job would dictate whether it’s twice or three or four ‘batches’ (or more) a day. But the point is to close your e-mail and then focus on completing what you have decided are your key priorities. Only process e-mails during the set batch times you’ve chosen.

In both cases we’ve found peoples’ completion rate soars, along with the good feeling of a more rewarding day.

We’ve mentioned only two activities. We’d be pleased to hear of others that work as well.

Ron Hopkins PEPworldwide UK

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norway, Redaktør

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What do you tell a multi-tasker when they’re busy?

Fascinating to see what a core of professional time-management coaches gave you as their top tip to improve your efficiency in 2013.

The tip was basically to ‘stop multi-tasking’. If we believe all the surveys, most of us who sit in open plan offices get interrupted every 11 minutes (and take double that time to re-focus), spend half our days going through the inbox, respond to a new e-mail within an hour of receiving it, all done in between responding to instant messaging media and phone calls and meetings.

Most of us believe we need to multi-task just to stay afloat. But we don’t always feel good about it. In fact Dr. Glenn Wilson of King’s College in London tested 1,100 office workers and found that many of them – after experiencing the regime described above lost 10 points off their I.Q at the end of a day. And the feeling you’re left with is that you’ve missed a night’s sleep.

Sadly,  the time-managers got it right. In recent years many independent psychologists have discovered that the great art of multi-tasking is actually bad for us.

It’s a difficult one because multi-taskers believe they’re getting better at what they do. (They simply get better at ‘switching’ between things. Their ability to concentrate and to produce a quality output really suffers).

The multi-taskers themselves believe their biggest problem is – ‘ a lack of team communication and unclear objectives’ (Microsoft Office Productivity Challenge).

The time-managers who set out to fix them advise them to stop-multi-tasking.

There seems to be a gap in perception – but is there? And is there anything we can
suggest as a remedy?

Multi-tasking references:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=the-myth-of-multitasking-09-07-15

http://blogs.forbes.com/carolkinseygoman/2011/04/26/the-myth-of-multitasking/

http://brainrules.blogspot.com/2008/03/brain-cannot-multitask_16.html

Next week we will explore some solutions.

Ron Hopkins, PEPworldwide UK

Johan Chr. Holst, PEPww Norge, Redaktør

Tilbake til hjemmesiden: pep.no