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Why I broke up with multitasking

18 Apr

I’ve long prided myself on being a multitasker. I’ve worn it like a badge of honor.

I’ve also looked for that badge on others. Thinking back on the dozens of job interviews I have conducted, I cannot recall a time when I haven’t requested, ‘Tell me about your multitasking abilities.’

The ability to carry out more than one task at a time is the key to efficiency and productivity at work. Right?

Well, recently I began to question the superiority of multitasking. It seemed that despite my best efforts, I struggled to keep my head above water while drowning in endless to-do lists. Things piled up and some even got missed. The cherished tool of multitasking didn’t help. All that juggling wasn’t working.

I came across a 2010 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education exploring the ongoing research on the effectiveness of multitasking. One study cited found that, “self-described multitaskers performed much worse on cognitive and memory tasks that involved distraction than did people who said they preferred to focus on single tasks”.

Perhaps multitasking wasn’t the key to efficiency and productivity as I thought it was. It may have even been hurting my performance. I figured I had nothing to lose.

I decided to try something new.

I started to focus on one task at a time. I shut down my email and let the phone go to voicemail. It may have only been for 20 or 30 minutes, but during that time I gave the task at hand my full attention.  When meeting with colleagues, I listened more attentively and put aside the thoughts of what was next on my calendar.

Amazingly, I’ve found I get more done.  There is still an endless to-do list, but I’m finally crossing things off.  Most importantly, I feel less rushed and anxious.  This allows me to handle the inevitable distractions calmly and confidently.

So that, my friends, is why I have broken up with multitasking.  I probably should have done it long ago, but I just wasn’t ready until now. 🙂

There are times when we undoubtedly need to jump in and put our juggling skills to the test.  We’re just not meant to do it all the time.

Photo credit: BotheredByBees

Do you value your work?

12 Apr

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a career workshop offered by my employer.  (side note: I am truly thankful that an amazing benefit of working for a university is the access to on-going training and education). I had reached a point of needing to make some decisions about the direction of my career and whether I was on the right path.   I hoped the workshop would be the kick in the butt I needed.

I fully expected to feel very foolish as a woman in her late thirties trying to figure out what to do with her life, surrounded by a bunch of recent graduates.  I mean, I’m supposed to know what I’m doing by now, right?

What I found was an inspiring mix of individuals at all stages in life.  Some with no idea of what they wanted to do, but eager to figure it out.  Others on the verge of retirement, exploring what to do in their next career.   A few suspected they were on the right path and wanted some reassurance.  The thing we all had in common was a desire to engage in meaningful work.

Our workshop facilitator was remarkable and led us through several insightful exercises.  One of the most intriguing was on determining our values.  As he described it,

Paying attention to our values helps us become more self-aware, evaluate our choices and decisions, prioritize tasks, develop authenticity and build credibility and trust.

If our work is out of line with our values, perhaps we are doing the wrong work.

These are my values and how they come into play at work:

  • Learning – seeking out new challenges and projects
  • Authenticity – being honest and owning up to your actions
  • Humor – life and work are hard, let’s laugh and enjoy what we can
  • Balance – strive to succeed professionally, but more importantly, personally
  • Support and Autonomy – being trusted by your boss and given the space to direct your own work

I’m very fortunate that, at the moment, my work and my values are pretty well aligned.  I must be vigilant however as it is easy to fall out of balance, and that’s when I lose my sense of humor.

How do you keep your values and work in harmony?

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