Have you ever wondered if fighter jet pilots take cell calls while landing on an aircraft carrier? Probably, you haven’t. The idea is ridiculous. That feat is hard enough without inviting distractions.
Now, take that image into electrical work. But expand the distraction part to include discussions about personal problems, thoughts about what’s going on after work, or resolving that quarrel you just had with your significant other.
In our society, people are increasingly distracted. Books have been written about this problem, including the aptly named “Distracted.” The slice of attention span devoted to a particular task is typically well below the level needed for safe or effective electrical work.
Many managers believe this is not a problem that affects them: “I don’t work in the field, so I don’t need that kind of focus. I have too many balls in the air for me to stop juggling.” This attitude produces underperforming managers. Think about it. A manager’s job involves thinking, planning, and evaluating. You can’t do those things well without focusing.
What about a “talk to people” job like sales? “I work in sales, so I have to multitask!” Wrong. You work in sales, so you cannot afford to multitask. And it’s not a “talk to people” job so much as a “listen to people” job. You need to really listen.
The customer who is made to feel like the center of your universe for 30 minutes is much more likely to spend money with you than one who is the victim of three “Mind if I take this?” interruptions in 20 minutes. And they certainly won’t feel valued if you’re texting while they’re talking. Prioritize your time with any one customer such that you are focusing on nothing but that customer. If you haven’t been doing this, once you start doing it consistently, you’ll see a nice increase in your sales.
The idea that you can multitask is attractive, but ill-informed. Various studies tell us what time management experts have been saying for years: It takes less time to knock out one task before moving to the next than to try doing tasks in parallel. Many of us have learned this from hard experience, having to take extra time to redo something because we weren’t paying quite enough attention the first time.
Why is this? Areas of your brain are dedicated to specific functions. For example, part of the brain processes language. It can’t do things in parallel, which is why we can always tell when someone is texting or reading e-mail (language processing also required) when we’re speaking with them on the phone. The brain has to switch between tasks, and the switching takes measurable time. During that time, the part(s) of brain being tasked “blank out” and do nothing. All those blank times add up, making it take longer to do the tasks you’re trying to do.
People who text and drive actually cannot see the road in front of them during this switching time. That’s on top of the time they’re looking at that screen instead of being aware of the traffic conditions around them. Keep this in mind if you are a manager or supervisor over employees who drive company vehicles.
Not every kind of multitasking has this blank-out effect. Walking and chewing gum at the same is multitasking, but these task different brain areas so don’t interfere with each other. That’s not true of most multitasking people do to “save time.” They actually waste time instead, because of these brain “off cycles.”
If your competitors are inculcating a culture of multitasking and your company is inculcating a culture of laser focus, then your company is going to have a laser sharp competitive edge.
If you’re aware of a competitor with such a culture, you’ve got a real opportunity to help their poorly serviced customers and increase your own portfolio. With that culture, the company is making many mistakes. They probably have higher prices because of the higher costs, plus schedule overruns, callbacks, and other problems that don’t result in the superior customer experience that you can provide thanks to your laser focus.
By bringing your mind fully into the task at hand, you also avoid the robotic “check it off the list” behavior that is normal for multitaskers. You are far more likely than they are to come up with ingenious solutions (or really “get” the problem in the first place), understand what the customer really wants, see a more cost-effective way to do the job, and so on. And you’ll take less time getting all of your work done.
Another advantage of focusing is you avoid an error that multitaskers commonly make. They will dilute their focus on a high-priority task by trying to simultaneously do one that has a low priority. This delays the completion of the task that’s important, and it diverts limited resources to tasks that should be done only after higher-priority work is completed. It means they are working on the wrong things much more than they should be.
If you really have more work than hours in a day to do it, multitasking isn’t the solution. The solution is to prioritize your work so the most important work gets done in the time you have. You can’t really manage time; each day has 24 hours no matter what you do.
But you can manage what you do in that time. If you manage yourself so you are focusing on the most important tasks one at a time you will find that your output is higher and your work quality better. Also, the perception that you “get things done” gets reinforced because it’s the important things that, by definition, really matter. Focus on those first.