Are you multitasking right now?

 We need to pay better attention to what we are doing.

None of us are any good at multitasking. We believe we are. We feel that we accomplish more at any given moment, because we can juggle the multitude of tasks that must be accomplished everyday. This ability makes us better, smarter, faster, more successful. Well, a new study coming out of Stanford proves this to be a wrong assumption.

There are two articles published today on this subject, based on the same research coming out of Stanford University. BBC News “Multitaskers bad at multitasking”, and The Boston Globe, “Multitasking is Overrated.” The recent Stanford study shows that “people who multitask the most are the ones who are the worst at it.” I knew it. Always inherently believed this to be true, but have slid down this path along with most of the rest of business society. In an effort to manage more in a day, I will constantly jump between many media, documents, messages, calls, research, notes, and scribbled lists of tasks.

I start each day sitting in my kitchen with my two cups of coffee. Turn on the radio to the local news channel, open the paper to scan and read, and keep my iphone right next to me to catch up on the messages that came in overnight. I sip, listen, read, and tap out responses. If any one of these elements is missing, it feels like my day is getting off to a slow start. Now, being honest with myself, I know I stop reading when I hear a report that I want to listen to, and I turn down the radio when I want to really comprehend an editorial column. And of course I drop everything is my mobile pings with a new message. Except I still pour in the coffee. Caffeine is my friend.

We all know that we cannot watch a movie and read a book at the same time. Well, we try, albeit poorly. Be honest, do you really think that you are capturing the subtle nuances of a director’s vision, while at the same time embracing the word play buried on the pages of the novel in your hands? Do you think the CEO of your client is really capturing the essence of the concept, while he reading a press release during your presentation? Do you think you are getting the most value out of the input meeting with staff, while you look at the data, your Acct Sup is answering a client email, and the creative team is texting about the latest spot from Crispin? We all do this at some point each day, yet we think we are doing great work. I think we are fooling ourselves.

The study from Stanford shows evidence that we are not really good at multitasking, much as we want to believe we are. I believe we all strive to be really good at is not multitasking, it is synchronized-mini-tasking. Jumping from one event to another with short, and focused, attention on the single task that is most pressing. Then we quickly move to the next. It’s a juggling act. A juggler keeps all the balls in rotation, while only touching one at a time. By using this method to move work forward, we are not giving each task the proper focus that gives it the most value. Our insight. Real insightful ideas come from digging, learning, twisting and turning, then letting some baking happen in your brain. I know the baking is happening while other work is happening, but are we all devoting enough real thought to the ingredients?

There are times when using all the tools available to you at the same time, can be great. Just know when it works, and when it really doesn’t. Quit fooling yourself. Take a deep breath, and look around your desk. How many things are open on your screen? How many windows are open right now? How many folders and papers are within arms length of where you sit, open and ready for your input? Is there music playing, people talking, phones ringing, while you try to write your overdue summary?

The value we provide our clients is our ability to gain unique insights, then developing ideas that will positively effect their business. You gain knowledge through the multitude of resources and media we touch every day, but can real insight grow without the ability to fully comprehend what all of our senses our experiencing at the same time?

At your next meeting, make everyone (including yourself), show up on time, turn off their blackberries, shut the door, put away any unnecessary document, and have a real meeting. Just keep it to a quick meeting. You’ll be surprised how much more will be truly accomplished in a shot time with everyone focused on the same thing.

Just my opinion. Now, time for another coffee and to check Twitter and email.