The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking lowEveryone I know is a multitasker. Whether it’s talking on the phone while driving, texting while walking or checking emails in boring meetings.   Today, not “making full use” of our time by doing just one thing seems wasteful to many people. This is true at work too. One study of office workers showed that they switched tasks every three to four minutes, with a 30-minute refocusing time necessary when that happens–certainly not an efficient way to work.

But time and again research shows us two things: (a) there is no such as thing as multitasking and (b) this behavior is not only inefficient but can also be harmful.   When you multitask, what your brain is really doing is switching between tasks. This constant switching is energy intensive, is highly inefficient and physically wears down your brain.

One study  shows a 40 % decrease in productivity when multitasking. Other studies show that increased rates of error and stress levels are only some of the costs of multitasking. But, as a Coach, where I see multitasking as a big issue is in how it impacts my client’s abilities to manage mental energy and brain fitness.

Sometimes the demands on managers’ time and attention make one feel like a juggling octopus. After a while we get awfully good at it and don’t even realize we’re doing it. It becomes “mindless”. Perhaps we need to recover the skill of single tasking, of being able to really focus to get work done.

You may not have control over interruptions at the office, but you can set some priorities and tactfully set boundaries on your thinking time. This may require you to close your office door or tell people in advance when you can or can’t be interrupted.

I’ve asked many people about their multitasking habits in the work I do in organizations. Most people proudly confess to these skills like a badge of honor. But sometimes I wonder how much of it is fear-driven. We’re probably terrified of missing something or not having an answer immediately at our fingertips. Perhaps this contributes to our own loss of time and ability to focus on single tasking.

Single-tasking well is a skill that’s underrated. When you think about it, telling someone you’re occupied with one thing and can’t fracture your attention isn’t something that’s commonly stated. Maybe we should start.

What do you think? Are you paying attention to your brain fitness?

In Search of Creative Insights that Boost Performance

What are you doing to prepare for the next five years? How are you generating creative insights that keep you performing and innovating at optimum level? This is one of the top issues the executives I work with grapple with – both in their professional and personal lives. A November 2014 Harvard Business Review article “Where to Look for Insight” defines insight as “an imaginative understanding of an internal or external opportunity that can be tapped to improve efficiency, generate revenue, or boost engagement. Insights can be about stakeholder needs, market dynamics, or even how your company works.”

Where are these creative insights found and discovered? The authors of the HBR article urge readers to explore 7 Places to Find Creative Insights:

boost performance1. Anomalies: Examine deviations from the norm. Any surprises? Highs or low revenues?

2. Confluence: Find macro trend intersections. How are trends combining to create opportunities?

3. Frustrations: Pinpoint deficiencies in the system. How can you address this?

4. Orthodoxies: Question conventional beliefs. What assumptions are taken for granted, toxic or unchallenged?

5. Extremities: Exploit deviance. What can you learn from your leading-edge or laggard customers, employees or suppliers?

6. Voyages: Learn from immersion elsewhere. How are your stakeholders’ needs influenced by their sociocultural context?

7. Analogies: Borrow from other industries or organizations. What successful innovations do you see applied in other disciplines? Can you adapt them for your own use?

Other recent research by Gary A. Klein, PhD, psychologist and expert on decision-making reiterated the mindset that lead people to discover insights – Spotting connections, Becoming curious about irregularities and coincidences, exploring contradictions and anomalies and finally, creative desperation – being so desperate that you try anything that might work! How many of us are truly curious –rather than critical – of irregularities or bumps in our lives?

Cultivating a mindset that facilitates creativity and insights is critical to reenergizing and staying ahead of the curve. Where do you go to stimulate fresh ideas that might lead to creative insights? I would be interested in knowing your thoughts.

Emotional Intelligence a Top Skill for 2020

According to a report last month  by the World Economic Forum,  within five years over a third of the skills considered today to be the most important for the workforce will have changed. Emotional Intelligence enters the game and Creativity jumps in importance as things like Quality Control drop off (technology will increasingly take care of that).

That Emotional Intelligence and creativity are receiving proper attention (rather than being a fad) is music to my ears! Most of the clients I work with are constantly pushing themselves to sharpen the skills to inspire and motivate their colleagues and teams in the context of rapidly changing environments. They are dedicated to continually up-training and up-skilling.

Although taking time to invest in yourself might seem counter-intuitive in times of great turbulence and pressure, it is a critical ingredient for success. What are you doing to renew yourself and your skills? Are you driving the process for self-“Rinnovation”? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Executive Presence: Actions Speak Louder than Words

Creating executive presence – how well a person speaks, looks, and acts like a leader- is the big buzz in training circles these days. According to a new study by the Center for Talent Innovation, being perceived as leadership material is essential to being promoted into leadership positions, and executive presence counts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted.

But as I discussed in a recent newsletter, perceptions are often false friends. You can be clear on your intentions and still not be perceived the way you intended because your actions aren’t clear enough and not aligned with what you say.

When there is a disconnect between what we say and what we do – most people will pay attention to what we do. How well do we observe and read our own actions? Most of leadership training focuses on making us experts at reading other people’s actions and focus primarily on building communications skills. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said so eloquently:

        “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can hardly hear what you’re saying.

So how do you improve your executive presence?action speak louder

Executive presence begins in your head. It resides in how you think about yourself, your abilities, your environment, and your potential.” ~ Kristi Hedges, The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others, Amacom, 2012

The best way to do this is to get meaningful and honest feedback and then act on it. Unfortunately, this can be easier said than done as many successful leaders just don’t have anyone that they can speak to, in a safe and professional environment, who understands both complex business issues but also has the professional expertise of a coach…and this is too important to leave to chance or misbeliefs. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, this is where having an experienced, trusted mentor or skilled coach is crucial! They use their expertise and experience to help you understand how your actions are perceived by others and give specific and pragmatic tips on what to do about it.

What kinds of things are you doing to see yourself and your actions the way others do? How do you keep focused on how to re-invent your leadership behavior? 

Year End Thoughts

To me, the end of the year is always a time of taking stock – the highlights as well as the things I’ve survived (even if barely!). And it’s a time of connection, of re-engaging, even if only for once a year, with all those who mean something to me, who enrich my life.

This year, I have been lucky to have had fantastic work engagements in India, Dubai, the US, UK and Italy… and I have even managed to squeeze in some wonderful up-training, through the renowned Neuroleadership Institute, on the latest findings in brain-based coaching.

I am so excited and thankful to be doing work I love and with amazing clients. I’ve connected with incredible, powerful people who are constantly striving to cultivate and nurture their own light, their own natural brand of leadership. I am grateful to the generosity of those who have allowed me to share in their journey, to witness their creativity and to support them in their growing pains.

In the midst of year-end and holiday stress, I always like to have some “mantras” at ready reference to help me keep my sanity. They help me to focus my attention on what is important and to remind me to elevate the level of my daily thinking. This year, I thought I would share these with you. I hope you enjoy them.

Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season and all the best for a joyful and successful 2016!

“ Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon”  Daniel Pink

“ Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”  E. B. White 

” The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”  William Arthur Ward

“ The Future depends on what we do in the present ”  M.K. Gandhi

Often to Move Forward, You Have to Let Go

move forward lowAs I train with my good friend Mauro Gumierato, a personal fitness and well being coach, (pictured here on the right) I am often reminded of some important lessons relevant to the work I do with clients. One of these is: often when you want to move forward, you have to let go. In the advice Mauro gives me on physical fitness and dexterity, I see many parallels and applications in my work on cognitive flexibility and agility.

Three Leadership Lessons from fitness

  1. When you are reaching for higher levels of achievement, you have to push away from your comfort zone and let go of that sense of security – In other words, take a (managed!) risk and trust that your training won’t let you down. There is no way to reach another level of achievement without moving from where you are and accepting that it might take a few tries, and even some pain, to get it right. This is absolutely true with personal growth and development.
  2. To learn a new skill, sometimes you actually need to throw away what you think you know and start from scratch – what you know might be outdated, might have gotten you where you are now, but not where you want to go, or, even worse, an impediment to the obtainment of your task (either physically or mentally). Sometimes you need to let go of the old and reach out for the new.
  3. For change to be sustainable you need to adapt, not just adjust. When it comes to motor skills adjusting is making temporary, compensatory changes to something you are doing at the moment; adapting is changing in the way you approach or conduct movements. The same is true for changes in behavior – particularly when what you’re looking for is real and sustainable transformation.

Moving on can be difficult. But remember – the focus is not on the letting go, it’s on the moving forward – on connecting with and achieving new experiences and skills in your life which make you stronger, flexible and agile. What do you need to let go to move forward?