| First Quarter 2013 | story by SANE M. JONES L.S.C.S.W. |

Are you a “multi-tasker”?

jones-shaneLet me answer that for you No, not really. Business owners and managers usually have a certain style and energy that enables them to move on multiple things seemingly simultaneously. What is actually happening is they are doing a better job of “time-splicing” than others can. They are able to shift focus quickly from topic to topic and activity to activity.

Time splicing does have a useful purpose, and is pretty much needed in managerial positions. However, there are negative consequences that can start causing a reduction in productivity as well as deterioration in a person’s relationships and general sense of well-being.

We are finding that we really only do one thing at a time. Some like doing one thing at a time for long periods, and some like to do many “one things at a time” transitioning to each at rapid pace. No matter how you do it, you will just be doing one thing at a time. Research is finding that those who don’t appear to be busy multi-tasking are often actually get more accomplished in a day. These non multi-task individuals are referred to as “single-minded” people.

When shifting from one task to another a person will experience a loss of focus and will have to use energy to boot up on the new task even though they may have been doing the task just a few minutes ago. There is always a certain amount of refocusing that is needed as we move from one task to another, and as we get older the refocusing takes longer and is less successful.

We have all had those, “I-cant-believe-I-did-that” moments. One of mine was after we had built our home. I did a lot of the work, and was pretty overwhelmed with it. I was out cutting firewood when I got called away to deal with something else. One thing led to another and it was several days later when I was outside and looked into the woods to see my chainsaw setting on a stump where I had left it days before.

I completely forgot that I had been cutting wood after the series of interruptions. As a result, I had to take the saw in to have it serviced because it had sat outside in the rain. When we are stressed and overwhelmed we are more likely to make the mindless blunders like my chainsaw event, and it can start costing a business money and time, maybe even the loss of a customer.

To be mindful is to be attentive, aware and careful. A person’s job may require a higher level of shifting from task to task, or their personality may be bent that way. However, there are things that can be done to avoid much of the lost focus. To allow your transition to be a slower gives you time to feel more in control of the events. You can place an “event stamp” in your brain that helps you to retain in the front of your mind what it is you were doing and be more likely to get back to it. It really amounts to a purposeful pause before shifting to the new task, which is what they have found single-minded people do.

A single-minded person tends to not lose track of the task they want to finish, so when an interruption comes they will deal with it only as much as needed and then get back to their task. However, the problem for a number of single-minded people is their resistance to changing focus at all, which will not work for them in trying to be a boss or manager; their challenge is to speed up the ability to shift tasks and not negatively reacting to those demands.

I believe in making a list, but not becoming a slave to the list. Business owners and managers have to be able to deal with a high volume of disruptions; having a list of a few things that are vital for you to feel you make significant progress in a day is very helpful in keeping you going back to those things.

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