Jeremy Hunter, PhD, Assistant Professor of Practice at The Peter F. Drucker School of Management, teaches a course called The Executive Mind. His students often tell him that multitasking makes them feel totally ineffective, and it irritates the people they work with. During Jeremy’s recent discussion with Mirabai Bush for the Working with Mindfulness webinar, he shared several examples about ways to shift or change distracting habits in organizations. Here’s what he had to say.
“We know from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research that in order to have flow you have to have concentrated attention. While our work places are anything but concentrated, how do you have this satisfying experience of deep absorption in what you’re doing if you’re multitasking all day?
Mindfulness is one approach to shift away from distraction. One of the things that we work with in the course is to simply build in a moment—one minute, two minutes—where you just stop and let your attention come back to where you are. It doesn’t look weird in the office. You’re simply stopping, pausing, taking a breath, and letting your attention recollect into the here-and-now. That’s a relatively easy way to regain your focus.
Another approach is to shift your habits and routines. One of my students—a CIO of a multi-billion dollar food company—decided to change the policy for their weekly meeting. He stood outside with a box. As people entered the room, they put their smartphone in it. People were irritated and fidgety the first time out. He said it was like being in a rehab ward. But over time, what he found was that they were actually having deep meaningful conversations about the issues the company was dealing with—and that they were solving them. He saw the power of simply having everybody in the same room at once, and not distracted by devices.
He started reducing other distractions from his daily workday—not having too many screens open at once, setting aside time to respond to emails, shutting off his personal cell phone for a few hours. At the end of the week, he estimated that he had two to three hours free per day that he didn’t have before. That was shocking for a c-suite executive to have an extra 40 hours or so a month simply by reducing unnecessary distractions.
If you are trying to bring mindfulness into an organizational context, addressing multitasking is a great place to start. Everybody experiences it, and nobody likes it. Yet people often feel like they have to do it. It’s a trap that people create for themselves.
One of the things that you can facilitate is a conversation about expectations of how we use our attention together: What are the rules around multitasking? What are the rules around meetings? What are the rules around email? Because we haven’t yet as a culture developed a stable etiquette around what is acceptable. That can be a very powerful, liberating and satisfying conversation for people.”
How do you avoid multitasking at work? Or do you think it’s unavoidable in your situation? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, or tweet them to me at @DanielGolemanEI.
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