A Type Of Energy Related To The Flow Of Charges Technology, Multitasking, Stress and "Flow" – Critical Information You Need to Be at Your Best

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Technology, Multitasking, Stress and "Flow" – Critical Information You Need to Be at Your Best

“Your first and most important job as a leader is to take control of your own energy and then help orchestrate the energy of those around you.”

Peter F. Drucker

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate; otherwise we harden.”

Goethe

Are you busier than ever and enjoying it less and less? Are you too tired and frustrated at the end of the day to enjoy dinner or “down” time? Is do you have more free time? What follows is what I think is the most critical piece of information you can incorporate into your life in the coming year, both to protect yourself from an extremely stressful environment and to excel in your performance and productivity.

Since 2001, when researcher Joshua Rubenstein, Ph.D. from the Federal Aviation Administration and David Meyer, Ph.D. and Jeffrey Evans. Ph.D.Sc. both from the University of Michigan, published their groundbreaking research in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, we knew that multitasking had its problems. In their work, they showed that changing mental speeds takes time, especially when switching to less familiar tasks.

To better understand executive control, or the “internal CEO,” researchers gave groups of young adults tasks of varying complexity (such as solving math problems) and measured the speed of their performance. In all cases, their measurements showed that the subjects wasted time on the tasks, actually doing less than if they had done the tasks separately, and they took significantly longer to switch tasks when they were more complex or unfamiliar.

Since that time, a significant body of research has been developed showing similar losses in productivity and performance as a result of multitasking. More worryingly, some recent studies have shown that multitasking simultaneously increases the levels of certain stress hormones, particularly cortisol and adrenaline, which wear down our body systems in the long run, increasing the risk of many serious health problems and causing us to age prematurely.

In the eight years since this initial research was published, the challenges to our personal time and work-life balance have grown exponentially. Along with increasingly complex technology and its increasing availability have come higher expectations of our personal availability. These advances in communication technology have allowed us to be available at any time of the day and any day of the week, and the continued expansion of the global nature of business has further fueled this demand. Lately, depressed economic conditions and associated deep cuts in employment have left us, almost everywhere, with fewer people and longer hours.

The pressure to multitask is great. In many organizations this has become the norm, but as mentioned above, the costs can be huge. The illusion of speed and doing more in less time is very appealing, but it’s usually just an illusion. The loss of quality of performance is high, but not nearly as high as the potentially devastating long-term costs to health from increased stress and to personal and family relationships as a result of never being fully present.

What is the cure for over-reliance on multitasking and its consequent consequences? I recently heard the term “continuous partial attention” to describe what is increasingly typical of our behavior today, and I find it disturbingly accurate.

A few examples:

– At an important meeting in a local high school that would have a significant impact on the student’s future, the student noticed afterward that the principal spent the entire meeting (almost an hour and a half) writing letters under the table.

– At a recent lunch with another executive coach, as I answered his question and reached for a bite of my salad, I looked up to see him checking his email on his new phone.

– A senior job candidate told me recently that his interviewer (and future boss) took three phone calls and conducted three complete phone conversations on (apparently) non-urgent topics while he was sitting there.

– Numerous clients told me that they regularly respond to business, e-mails, faxes, phone and text messages from home even while they are on vacation.

– Almost as many complained that their spouse or partner “disappears into email” late into the evening and on weekends, effectively eliminating any “family time” or “couple time.”

What is the most important piece of information I can give you at the start of 2009? Check out the three strategies below:

1. Limit multitasking. Set clear boundaries for yourself during work and non-work activities. Turn off electronic devices at specific times and teach co-workers what is “urgent” to contact you after hours. If you are in a leadership role, model this for your staff and organization and clearly communicate what you are doing.

2. Be fully present. Whether it’s a child, spouse, co-worker, or employee, make a conscious choice to be present with them without being interrupted by other technology and tasks. With colleagues and staff, it should be as often as they need your attention for work-related activities. For family and significant others, this should happen every day.

3. When you work, WORK! And when you play, PLAY! In “The Power of Full Engagement” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, they repeatedly point out that the key to high performance is energy management, not time management. They argue that alternating periods of intense effort (or work) with periods of complete restoration (or relaxation and “play”) is necessary for continued health, high efficiency, and productivity. In addition, numerous researchers have shown that one of the biggest predictors of happiness and one of the most powerful protectors we have against the negative effects of stress is often being in a state of “flow”. In other words, to be completely engrossed in an activity, so much so that we lose track of time. This is impossible while multitasking. And the deep recovery needed to do our best work is impossible if we never fully allow ourselves to fully relax and “play”.

I invite you to implement these three strategies in the coming year. Break the trend towards “constant partial attention” and observe the changes in yourself, your organization and others around you.

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