2010 Career Challenge: U = Uninterrupted

By Skip Lineberg

Multi-tasking is a myth. It doesn’t work. No human can effectively do two or more tasks at once.

Yes, you read my words correctly. Multi-tasking does not work.

Let’s consider a typical work day. After I wake and while I’m getting ready for work, I begin pondering the day’s priorities. By the time I step out my front door I have constructed a mental list of the five most important things I need to accomplish that day. Most of the time, I take 5 minutes and write these down in my Moleskine, along with other notes, thoughts and personal errands to be done. So far so good.

I arrive at the office, and as soon as my computer has booted and connected with the network, I am on e-mail. Invariably, I begin reading and responding to email. As a result, I will typically encounter several new requests or questions. Plus, I am presented with dozens of informational reading opportunities. Plus, there’s junk mail to be deleted. Sound familiar?

By this time, my iPhone will have chimed several times. Now, I am distracted by Facebook alerts, Tweets and text messages.

An hour or more has elapsed.  The iPhone chimes again, and it is now time for the day’s first meeting. And what about those Big Five priority tasks that I identified for myself? They are buried.

Has this ever happened to you?

A recent article from Entrepreneur frames this scenario very clearly and quantitatively. In fact it’s the best synopsis that I have ever read about the distractions associated with electronic communications. Here are just a few eye-openers:

  • Each day a typical office employee checks e-mail 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times.
  • E-mail volume is growing at a rate of 66% a year.
  • Productivity dropped as much as 40 percent when subjects tried to do two or more things at once.

Wow – those are some amazingly compelling and paradigm-shifting facts! So what it boils down to is this: the only way to be effective at work is to shield yourself from interruptions. In our recently published book, Effective Immediately, we give advice on structuring your day to be more effective and in such fashion as to avoid interruptions.

One tactic that we recommend is to create an island of productivity for yourself. You block off one hour a day in which you essentially unplug. Turn off your email, silence your phones and close your door. Now you’re on your island where the only thing you do is work on your priority work tasks. Interruptions are not allowed on your island.

It’s quite simple, really, and only requires the discipline to stick with it. The selection of time for this “golden hour” is up to you. Now, of course, we understand that everyone’s circumstances are different. You may be in a customer service position where you have to take incoming calls all day. You may not have a door. Your boss may require you to respond his or her email within a specific time window. Granted, there is no one right way. But where there’s a will there’s a way.

That’s it for me. I’m heading to my island of productivity. You won’t be able to reach me for about an hour.

Note: This is Part 21 in a series called the “2010 Career Challenge: Becoming a Rock Star from A to Z” by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg, co-authors of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job.

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