The Dangers Of Compulsive Multi-Tasking - Proteus Leadership
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The Dangers Of Compulsive Multi-Tasking

Leaders today are getting smashed with work. There is more to do than time available, everyone wants a piece of you, and time seems to evaporate into thin air. The temptation to try and keep up with speed results in overload and burnout. The solution lies in breaking the ‘always busy’ addiction.

Digital productivity expert, Simon Waller recently wrote, “If you ask executives for the number one factor limiting their productivity, the answer is invariably email.” Simon revealed that in 2012, McKinsey estimated this one activity took up more than 13 hours per week (and is only getting worse)!1

MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller tells us that our brains are not designed for multi-tasking. In fact, constant task switching creates a neural addiction to the feel good chemicals, such a dopamine, which are released every time you complete a small task (like sending a text, or writing an email).2

Earl found that, “Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can over stimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.”To add to that, research has found that, “multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time.” 4

Multi-tasking hasn’t been shown to be more productive – quite the opposite. A study at the University of London showed that multi-tasking lowered your IQ, so much so that it was similar to losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana!


So what’s the solution?


1.  Detox from ‘urgency addiction’

It’s like the frog in the pot of water on the stove. The frog doesn’t recognise the water is heating up because it’s in it and adjusting to the temperature change. By the time it notices the water is too hot, it’s too late – the frog has become soup.

You are surrounded by a multi-tasking culture of being in a meeting whilst responding to texts, and reviewing a report. You have adapted your work style to fit in with everyone around you. Don’t just follow the crowd. Be deliberate in how you work. Ensure that technology is serving you, rather than becoming a servant to technology.

The problem is, however, that distraction feels good. It is an addictive feeling that comes from chasing micro successes throughout your day. Thus, making it less appealing to focus in on one task that requires longer attention with minimal, or no, short term reward.

You need to wean yourself off the addiction of distraction. Stop relying on the micro feel good bursts that come from doing quick activities that are grabbing your immediate attention. Get the important stuff done first, not just the easiest or most pleasurable ones.

Cal Newport, author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world’ tells us that high-quality work is a function of two factors, being “the amount of time you spend on work and the intensity of your focus during this time.”5 By increasing your undistracted focus, you can get more done.

Discipline yourself to focus in by removing distractions that steal your attention away. Close the door, hold your calls and treat your time as the most important commodity in the world.


2. Prioritise your attention

In the 1980s and 1990s multitasking was the top time-management tip. You were taught to chunk your work into timed blocks and order your day like a military operation. In 1984, Steven Covey inspired us to do ‘first things first’ and decipher between the urgent and important tasks, followed by Brian Tracey (in 2001) who explained that we should ‘eat that frog’ and do the most difficult things first as the best way to stop procrastination and get more done. In 2007, Tim Ferriss published the game changing philosophy of the ‘4 hour work week’ challenging us to outsource, streamline and muse our way to success.

Whilst all these philosophies have sold thousands of books, courses and speeches, and extoll practical advice that has saved people so much time, cut down stress, and increased productivity, you are probably still sitting there, even as you read this article, wondering how you are going to get everything done without burning yourself out?

The underlying problem here is not the shuffling of time, but rather the allocation of attention. Decisions determine where your attention goes, for how long, and what tasks you will do. A good decision making philosophy is like having an experienced captain at the helm of a ship who is able to navigate the ocean and arrive at the destination with minimal exertion and disruption.

Creel Price launched his first business at age 11 selling strawberries in rural New South Wales. In fact, he launched a total of eight businesses by the time he left school and a further two at university, and, at age 25, he co-founded Blueprint Management Group with just $5,000 in capital, without any follow on investment, until they exited a decade later for $109 million. Creel and his business partner built one of Australia’s fastest growing companies (BRW Fast 100) in the marketing, e-commerce, call centre and data analytics sectors.

Creel credits a major contributor of his success to the art of ‘Decisionship’. He feels that, “the ability to make better, faster decisions without the angst, is key to success.”6


3. Manage your emotions

When you are being bombarded with volumes of work, your decisions are influenced by time urgency, personal standards, management expectation, and team time frames.

These pressures will lead you to make more emotionally based decisions, instead of logical ones.

When your decisions are driven by emotion (such as stress, anxiety, or adrenaline), then you are more likely to create short-term solutions, handle too much yourself (instead of delegating) and react to whatever is the most urgent emergency to fix.

To be time effective, especially in a leadership role, you need to be ruthless about where you give your attention. You need to value your attention like a drowning man would treat oxygen.

This will require you to determine if your decisions are more driven by your emotions or your logic. That is, determining whether you are making decisions from a hedonistic, emotionally driven, ‘what will feel good’ or ‘how can I get rid of this stress’ point of view, or whether you are thinking from a logical, values based, big picture and clear minded viewpoint.

In Detroit, Michigan, at the ‘Cave of Adullam Transformational Training Academy’7, Sharath Jason Wilson uses martial arts to teach boys how to be mentally strong and hold high standards of behaviour, values and morals when life around them is tough. Jason provides an environment where boys can experience the value of using perseverance and tenacity to guide their decision making process in training and in life.

When you step up into any leadership role, you will be confronted with tough decisions that will shake your emotions and drive up your stress. You will need to quickly get into the practice of deciding who is driving your ship – your emotions or your logic.


By Michael Licenblat
Published with permission from the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM) –




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