Please don’t rear-end me.

We’re seven weeks into our new lives in Durham, North Cackalacky.  Quick review: amazingly nice people, awesome food and beverage situation, great bands that play before my bedtime, reasonable housing prices, worst drivers I’ve ever encountered.

Its not that they lack skill, its that the roads are wide open and flat and not very attention grabbing.  The net result is next level multitasking.  Drinking coffee while applying mascara while texting? No problemo!  I saw a middle aged guy driving a Porsche down the I-40 with a novel propped on the steering wheel.  A NOVEL.  Which he was READING.  In the PASSING LANE.

A lot has been written in the businesphere about the perils of multitasking and why we might become more productive humans if we re-learned to devote our full attention to one thing at a time.

According to this article, “it takes… an average of 15 minutes to re-orient to a primary task after a distraction such as an email. Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%.”  Peter Bregman, an expert on performance and productivity, quotes a study in this article that shows “people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQs.”

Its hard to block out the noise made by your iPhone, your laptop, or even a chatty co-worker.  But if we are honest about how many emails we skim and ignore, calls we screen and don’t return, and commitments we make and promptly forget, there is an consequence of multitasking worse than lowered productivity and IQ.  We’re addicted to distraction itself more than to what distracts us.  And that, good people, is what’s scary.

We interrupt ourselves to address stimuli that we are just as likely to half-ass.  Being distracted from writing a report to look at Facebook? That makes sense – one takes thought and concentration and the other is diversion.  But being distracted from a conversation to check email that we will likely lose track of? That’s not logical!  That’s distraction from one potentially interesting thing to a thing that’s a known bore.

There are lots of ways to combat this, and productivity experts with far more expertise that I have weighed in.  So I’ll just talk about what works for me.

1.  I turn off my phone in meetings.  I’m not an ER doctor, I’m an HR consultant.  No one will die because I don’t return a text for 25 minutes.

2.  I track my time in excel.  I have to track billable time anyway, so this comes naturally.  The result is that I see if a block of time is unaccounted for and can ponder what I might have done with it.  Or, more positively, at the end of a week I have data to determine whether I spent my time in the right places.

3.  This goes along with number 2 – determine how much of your time you want to spend on certain activities.  If you’re tracking your time (your calendar works for this too, btw) add up the hours at the end of the week and see if you met your goals.  For me, that’s three hours of writing, four business development meetings, etc.

4.  Don’t expect to stop multitasking and become a highly functioning individual in a week.  Its a muscle that takes strengthening like any other.

I have a lot more thoughts on this topic, and will likely come back to it.  But now I’m thirteen minutes into the hour I’ve reserved for client work, so I will turn my email and phone back on, and start replying to messages.

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Please don’t rear-end me.

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