Thursday 24 February 2022

On bumping my head...

In our cellar, we have a low beam. Normally, without even thinking about it, I duck under it as I go from one side to the other. But occasionally I bump my head on it. And that is always when I am thinking of something.  I nearly said something else, but it is not that I am thinking of the beam normally - I just have a habit of ducking my head a bit. So it is interesting that if I am distracted from my normal routine of 'walk across the cellar' by something else - a grandchild, say - I often bump my head.

And that is consistent with various psychological experiments on multi-tasking (eg this research from Stanford). To try this out for yourself, try doing a fairly routine task, whilst counting backwards from 100 in threes.  You see what I mean?

All of which reminds me of the wisdom of something my very first boss in the training world taught me: OTAAT - one thing at a time.

What is interesting is that we know this, both from experience and from the research, and yet we are often tempted to do more than one thing at once: to check our email whilst in a meeting or talking to someone; or to interrupt our serious thinking work by checking the news headlines or the weather forecast.

Moreover, our work environments often seem to demand that we multi-task: how else will we get through the enormous volume of admin stuff we need to clear, before we can get on to our real work?  Yet that question is itself an illusion: we will rarely, if ever, clear all the admin we could possibly do, particularly if we work in a bureaucratic organisation. We must start form the other end: identify the best use of our time right now - the most important and urgent thing - and do that, to the exclusion of all else, at least for a period of time.

Of course we need to dedicate some time to staying on top of emails and so forth, but that should become second and be time limited: and when we are doing that, we should only be doing that.  Because ultimately, if we try to multi-task, not only will we be slower, less efficient and less intelligent, we may also hit our head on the beam...


Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

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