Multi - tasking is our norm.
Many of us are so caught up in corporate “busy-ness” that we operate on automatic pilot, lose focus and stop paying attention, not just to our surroundings, but to ourselves. We do as many things as we can at one time in and actually take pride in it. Even boast about it! Constant contact is often not only expected, but demanded by bosses, peers and our families. For the few remaining hours before we finally sleep, we field never ending demands generated by our partners, kids, parents, hobbies, friends, homes and any other relationships in our “free “time.
At the same time there has been a marked cultural and economic shift to self- help. Many activities which were previously managed by a service provider we now do ourselves. Our personal hard drives are overloaded with processes we didn’t need to know before: shopping, banking, checking-in, ticketing and reservations, are all done on line. So our “busy-ness” has increased even further, but it has also led to a loss of basic daily interaction that makes us stop, think and engage with other human beings. A smile, a touch, an idle chat. Twitter is the new water-cooler time. Now, if we don’t pay much attention to ourselves, we pay even less to other people.
Scientists believe that as little as 1% of our brain is actively engaged in the activity we are presently “focused “on! I use the word “focus” lightly! This is not even when we are stressed when problems become our central focus when our capacity to pay attention is reduced further. According to Pareto, 80% of our activity generates only 20% of the results. Have you ever opened the refrigerator door and forgotten what you were looking for? No? Lucky you! You can see, with the complexity of modern living, how easy it is for “life” to take on a momentum all of its own, and how effortless it is, to drift. To re-act, not act.
David E. Meyer, Professor of Psychology, in the Cognition and Perception Program, at University of Michigan, writes extensively on multi-tasking. He believes that excessive multi-tasking “can lead to chronic stress, with potential damage to the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems”. He maintains that flitting from task to task interferes with demanding and complex mental activities such as reading, having conversations and planning. This all contributes to an increase in the incidence of error. Tasks then take as much as 100% longer than they should to be completed. When we under perform and expectations (perceived and actual) are not met, stress levels increase yet again.
Clients in transition often expect me to write their CVs for them because they believe that I will do a better job than they would. Superficially, that might possibly be true. I could certainly write a successful looking document, but it would lack depth and as a career search tool its value would be for a limited period only. As I strongly believe “Find the key to yourself and every door in the world is open to you”, I have to refuse.
Some career coaches maintain that no one knows you like you do! I’m actually not so sure. My observation is that quite often people are so wrapped up in “busy-ness” that they don’t take/make the time to get to know themselves. So I always think it’s a good idea to at least check where they are on the “know thyself” spectrum. I ask clients to set aside some time, to do one small thing differently, anything that prompts them simply to think, to engage in what they are doing and to be in the moment they are actually doing it in. I encourage them to slow down and to get to know themselves, just thinking.
When I outline this idea many clients look at me askance, as if I’m asking them to sit cross legged in a corner, wearing orange robes, chanting and using “F” words ( no not that one – the other ones …Feelings.) ” What’s this got to do with my job and you writing my CV?” these hard headed executives ask. My personal belief is that it’s all key.
As coaches we all recommend different strategies to create some moments of focused thought - mono-tasking. To purists it’s not even mono-tasking – but I live in the grey world of approximation! Just eating, just jogging, just driving, just looking at a view, with no other distractions – only thoughts. Most people find it harder than they imagine.
We spend about 76000 hours in our lives working, so it’s important to get it as right as we can. So what do I suggest clients should be thinking about?
*What am I passionate about?
*What do I believe in? ( values)
*What are my life goals ( general)
*What are my professional goals (specific)
*What have my challenges in life been?
*How did I deal with them?
*What did I achieve?
*What skills did I call upon?
We then need to check that all these thoughts are aligned, so our chosen professional path is what we want to be doing, or somewhere close. I am passionate about tennis, but given my skill level, and any potential to improve being close to zero, clearly I can’t make a career out of it! So compromise and prioritising is required and some will be deal breakers and others won’t.
When we have completed this process and start to get to know ourselves, we can begin to take control and articulate our own message successfully and independently, in all circumstances. We might need some help – but no one can do it all for us. To make this happen, we need to be prepared to stop and just think.
For many of us, making even the smallest change can offer many new and exciting options.
First published June 16th 2009 edition of MindTram: Coaches Mojo.