McKinsey Tells CEOs: Stop Multi-Tasking
Here's an interesting tidbit for all us dizzy multi-taskers: McKinsey Quarterly issued a report last January called Recovering from Information Overload that tells senior execs in no uncertain terms: the key to greater productivity is to simply stop multi-tasking - or at least, greatly reduce how and when you do multi-task.
The argument McKinsey develops is simple: various studies show mounting proof that we really don't make our finest decisions while splitting our attention. What's more, shifting constantly between stimuli may be a fact of modern life, but we really can't handle all the balls we're juggling well. We'd probably work much better and faster if we deal with each important ball in turn.
I can attest personally to the fact that it takes guts as a CEO to reduce multi-tasking in the office. The calls for your attention are constant, and constantly competing. Plus our whole culture has evolved to split our focus at every turn, from technology to business culture to everyday life.
At the same time, I appreciate McKinsey's point. I've tried to reduce my own multi-tasking selectively when it counts. Certain decisions just require a clear head and no surrounding noisiness, so when I'm faced with one of those I try to block out stimuli, stow the cell phone and email, and really put my full head into contemplating a solution. What's hardest about doing this is really selecting the times when being single-minded matters; I find it impossible to cut out multi-tasking entirely. But whenever I do clear my mind, I'm generally glad I did, and I think the resulting decisions benefit from that clear-headedness.
What's more, CEOs set the tone for a company's culture by their own example. If a CEO models a smart strategy for multi-tasking (or not, when it's called for), that's a helpful encouragement to everyone on his or her team to do the same.
What about you? How do you decide when it's time to stop multi-tasking and really focus? On the flip side, are there any forms of multi-tasking you'd defend as real improvements
[image: Multi-Tasking and Driving by Mike "Dakinewavamon" Kline on Flickr]
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