Better stoned than multitasking?

Jul 14 2015 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

We hear over and over again that multitasking is inefficient and can make you less effective. Apparently it also makes you stupid. Like really stupid. Like three times less effective than being stoned on marijuana.

The insanely talented Jessica Stillman posted at Jessica Stillman posted at the other day about yet another study that shows how incessant email, texting and other forms of multi-tasking are quantifiably hurting productivity and effectiveness at work. This is a real problem, especially when working remotely, where nearly all communication will be come through technology.

It’s critical when looking at studies like this not to overreact. Of course, when multitasking frantically, overreacting is one of the most common responses, so there’s an irony there. Nobody is saying don’t text or email. It might lower your blood pressure and raise your effectiveness, but the resulting worries about unemployment would offset those gains.

When we are connected by the great electronic umbilical cord, it’s not whether we use certain tools, so much as how, when, and why we employ them.

Here are some tips for reducing the negative effects of gadget multi-tasking. And, yes, I know what a huge hypocrite I’m being, since I just interrupted writing this post to answer an IM from a colleague.

Set blocks of time aside for each tool. I know everyone tells you “only answer email once or twice a day” but most of us will simply burst into flames if we try to do this cold-turkey. I am trying to limit it to the top of each hour.

Reduce the stimuli that create stress. I have a Pavlovian response to the little “ding” alerting me to incoming emails. Since there’s no difference in the time it takes to read requests for money from Nigerian princes as it is important information from my co-workers, I waste a lot of time and my blood pressure spikes unnecessarily. Try cancelling the notifications. If you can’t go completely “alert-free,” try just eliminating the audio alert.

Really assess and prioritize your responses, especially to texts and IMs. It is possible that a high quality response will take actual time and thought. That probably means you can’t give the best answers right in the moment, when you’re supposed to be concentrating elsewhere. Does this message require a fast answer, or a high-quality response? They’re seldom the same thing. If possible, make a note to respond once you’re done whatever you’re doing. Then complete that task well, and put some actual thought into your answer.

It helps if you explain to the person sending the message why there might be a delay. Don’t be afraid to use your status updates to set some context for people you work with. Sitting around drumming your fingers and cursing someone is a waste of time, too.

I know that you’ve heard this before. This is the “eat your veggies” lecture that we’ve gotten our whole lives, but seldom take to heart. But when we work remotely, we are particularly prone to falling into the 24/7 always connected electronic trap.

So knock it off!

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.