Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So a classmate of mine posted a great article to a group site about a new book by Maggie Jackson that sparked some interesting discussions between others in the class and our professor. I gave myself 24 hours to decide if I would co-opt it. But because it goes to the heart of this blog's focus, and because it is all about community and sharing, here goes.

From what i can surmise the article basically claims that multi-tasking has become such an engrained routine of our daily lives, with interruptions around every corner and with every phone call, that we are actually becoming less creative and less likely to problem solve to the best of our ability. I don't know about you, but Amen Maggie, Amen.

Without having read the book itself, just a short piece and interview with the author, I have to agree. I multi-task all day long and get a lot done, but many of those things are not done to the best of my ability. Maybe I am just slow (though I hope not and don't think that is the case), but I rarely get the chance to really focus on a task and figure out the best solutions to my challenges.

It is not that multi-tasking is the problem, but I think that "focused multi-tasking" is much more productive than just doing things to get them off of a never-ending "to do" list. Fascinatingly enough, the author mentions how we are actually hard wired for interruptions:

We are programmed to be interrupted. We get an adrenalin jolt when orienting to new stimuli: Our body actually rewards us for paying attention to the new. So in this very fast-paced world, it's easy and tempting to always react to the new thing. But when we live in a reactive way, we minimize our capacity to pursue goals.
But to me, while hormonally I may be rewarded with adrenaline, I generally feel like I am being pulled in several directions - something that rarely helps anyone really get down to business.

Now, that is just my experience, but there does seem to be some other corroborating evidence. In my response to the article posting I mentioned a project I once did on Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by author Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (Mi-haley Chick-sent-mi-high-hee; it's Hungarian). Csikszentmihaly contends that when we reach a state of "flow," we are most creative, and operating most efficiently and effectively. It is his equivalent of "being in the zone," when hours pass by in what seems to be minutes, and one is totally engrossed in what they are doing (not to mention happiest). In order to reach this state, one must be just challenged enough that the task is not simple, but capable enough so as to not lose hope of successfully finishing (ACP???). Clearly we can not reach this perfect state every time we step in the office, but surely it helps to get as close as possible. With all of the constant distractions and interruptions I am just not sure anyone gets to operate in their optimal, or even partially-optimal space. Then again, I guess I could just turn off the ringer.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Alex -- thanks for the "link love." There's some crazy stat somewhere that says every time you are interrupted in the middle of a task (for example, by a colleague at work asking a question), it takes you something like 15-20 minutes to refocus on that task. Combine that with today's open-office concept that everyone loves so much and the productivity (or non-productivity) numbers must be off the charts. Cheers, jc