How to be more productive? Multitasking Paradox and Attention Deficit


Multitasking and Attention Deficit Trait

This is continuation of the series on Networking, Priorities, Data.  

What is one of the invaluable things today that everyone strives for to get from you? To my mind, it is your Attention..  Commercials aimed to get attention of consumers, governments – for voters, international authorities etc, businesses – for stakeholders etc..

“The more I allow myself to be seduced by distraction, the more distractible I become”.  Tony Schwartz, President and CEO of The Energy Project,

It is getting more and more difficult to grant longer attention to the issues or hobbies you’d prefer to do. Still we need somehow to cope to keep afloat. And moreover, we don’t need only to cope, but to time-manage, prioritise, and be on top of the follow-up.

Thus, we usually decide and/or are forced to multitask as a solution. Multitasking is a very well promoted skill as one that saves time and logically will lead to more productivity. However, the recent study by Harvard Business Review revealed directly the opposite, so-called ‘The Multitasking Paradox’.

It states that multitasking is counterproductive. By comparing two different work styles: changing focus relatively few times and constantly shifting between activities. The study suggests that the frenetic modern worker who switches tasks hundreds of times a day on average, accomplishes less than the one who stays focused and finishes tasks one by one. Thus, according to RescueTime CEO Joe Hruska, “Stick to one thing at a time and you’ll get more done”.

The interactive chart is presented by HBR and RescueTime and shows the day of two workers with different approach.

As shown on below chart, you can see that productivity is directly correlated with the switches between the tasks: 85% of productivity with total switches of 277 vs. 33% of productivity with 496 switches.

Multitasking paradox, RescueTime

 Do you suffer from Attention Deficit? 

As per Edward Hallowell, psychiatrists and founder of the Hallowell Center for cognitive and Emotional Health, Sudbury, Massachusetts, the neurological phenomenon that he called Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) is now epidemic to organizations. It is caused by brain overload and people with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities and managing time. All these consequences can undermine the productivity of a gifted Executive.

It is quite interesting how Dr. Hallowell, who is psychiatrist for over 25 years, compares this trait with Attention Deficit Disorder, medical condition, and suggests that there are similarities. The facts that the segment of the adult population is growing steadily with this new, related condition and the number of people with ADT has mushroomed by a factor of ten in the past decade, makes this trait very alarming especially for a business viewpoint.

Unlike, ADD that is genetic, ADT springs from the environment and is an artifact of the modern life, brought by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades.

The features of ADT that come upon an Executive is usually guilt and low level of panic due to inability to handle a load they simply cannot manage as well as they’d like.

So, what do we need to do to manage our Attention Deficit?

Since ADT is partially caused by the surrounding environment and partially by our inner vulnerability, it is important to control it’s effects in ourselves and in our organisations. Thus, the only method is to control these both parts by creatively engineering your own environment and your emotional and physical health.

  • Promote positive emotions: rather than create to-do list on mobile device, us your brain creatively, build a positive, fear-free emotional atmosphere. “Fostering connections and reducing fear promote brainpower”
  • Take physical care of your brain: more sleep, a good diet and exercise are critical
  • Organize for ADT:  get rid of disorganization, i.e. order your wok in a way that suits you. Set up your office in a way that helps mental functioning; do not allow yourself to spend all time with e-mails or voice mails or dealing with minor tasks. Before you leave your day, it is important to do a list of things you’ll start your next day with.
Control Your Attention Deficit Trait

How to control ADT in organisations

It is a fact that productivity plummets when organisations ask employees to work on multiple overlapping projects and induce ADT by demanding fast and second-rate thinking rather than deep thinking. The system of reward/punishment from those who agrees to get overloaded to those who refuses and prefer to stay focused adds up to the oranisational productivity decrease through ADT.

On a contrary, rather than overload employees, company needs to think how to support them so they can feel happy and flourish. Contributing to a positive atmosphere through on-site gym, 7-hr workday that ends at 5pm, the on-site day care, a cafeteria with baby seats and high chairs so parents can eat lunch with their children- is one of the examples where a major software company in North Carolina, SAS Institute, tried to create a positive environment and support its employees.

Through creating loyalty in employees, company saved millions other software companies spend on recruiting, training and severance.


Relevant Posts

Networking, Priorities, Data: How well do you manage them towards your strategic goals? – Part 2 on Data

Networking, Priorities, Data: How well do you manage them towards your strategic goals? – Part 1 on Networking and Priorities