The first thing our scrum teacher taught us about agile was the importance of focus. I come back to that lesson daily, oftentimes hourly.
Its funny. Many people would agree focus is important, but very few practice it. Multi-tasking is very much the norm.
Most people I speak to about multi-tasking fall in to two camps. One declares they are good at multi-tasking*, usually take pride they can do it, and say they would have it no other way. The other group, far more numerous, has surrendered to the idea that having many things to work on at once is just business as usual. To them, multi-tasking to get things done is just stone cold reality.
I’ll take on the first group in a moment, but for the second group who believes this is our reality– here’s another reality—people do not multi-task well. In fact (despite what the first group thinks), we are terrible at it. Its a scientific fact. To say multi-tasking is what we have to do in order to get a lot of things done is as realistic as saying we are going to clone people so more work can be completed.
Let’s now address those people who believe multi-tasking is efficient. If you think this, you actually might be in trouble, but to be sure, lets perform a simple test to see how good you are at multi-tasking.
Take a look at these two sentences:
George Washington cut down the cherry tree.
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin.
Step 1. Get out a stopwatch. Time yourself on how long it takes you to write these two sentences. It took me 34.62 seconds.
Step 2. This time you are going to time yourself writing these sentences at the same time. In other words, write one word from the first sentence, then write a word from the second sentence and go back and forth until you have completed both. For example—you would write G, A, e, b, o, r, etc.
Ready? . . . Go!
How long did it take you? I timed out at 1:58.75. Did you have any problems writing the two sentences? Did you make any mistakes? How is this part of the exercise different than the first?
Its true we can’t completely do away with multi-tasking. Sometimes you do have to switch. However, mutli-tasking needs to become the exception rather than the rule rather than the other way around. Learn to recognize when you are multi-tasking and seek to minimize it. Learning to focus on one thing at a time takes practice. In a future post I’ll give you a tool that t I use to help minimize my multi-tasking and increase focus.
In this article, I focused more on an individual and his/her ability to multi-task. Can a team multi-task? How about an organization? How do we change the tide of this god-awful myth and become more focused in our work and ultimately get more work completed?
*The University of Utah found that a small percentage (2.5%) of the population CAN multi-task as effectively as those who mono-task. Before you raise your hand and say, “that’s me,” the same university found those who think they can multi-task are the worst at it and those who don’t are better.