Multitasking Cripples our Effectiveness

What used to be seen as an advantage is actually limiting our capabilities

In meetings all over we see the distracted individual who is listening and checking quick notes or messages on a digital device. I know I do it from time to time. People tout their ability to perform multiple tasks and get more done in less time. I remember it being a badge of honor! But all research into the subject shows the opposite. In fact our brains are not wired to be able to make clear decisions while multi-tasking nor effectively process information when we selectively attend to tasks.

Why do we do it? The research points to the fact that we actually get a burst of dopamine in the brain when we quickly respond to messages. We are looking for good news. Something that says we are making progress and in control. But while physically this is what happens in fact our control, the quality of our thinking and our contributions are slowly being diminished as we lose the able to focus and concentrate.

As a senior IT leader and especially as an IT consultant I know I need to be able to listen intently to verbal and nonverbal queues. I need to silence the inner voices and participate collaboratively with my clients for more than a 30 second conversation. As I work to become a real partner if not a trusted advisor, I know I need to become excellent in these capabilities. I think we must avoid the multi-tasking trap.

So can we examine our own ability to focus concentrate and listen in our meetings? Can we make our meetings a chance to develop new capabilities and to contribute? If we are rushed to attack a critical solution during our meetings can we have everyone in the meeting collectively take a couple of moments of quiet to center ourselves and quiet the inner voices. Would we agree to close our devices and make them silent? Even for note taking?

We can focus better, add more value and deepen our relationships at work if we are able to avoid the multitasking trap.

Sources: (Just a few of many I found in very little time with a simple google)

What We Do Matters

The Age Old Question of What Makes People Happy is Alive and Well in the Workplace

People are changing jobs within the information technology field at a rate not seen since the dot com boom and Y2K phenomenon of the late ’90’s.  Perhaps one factor in this trend is that more people are thinking about the value of their jobs beyond the workplace and, unfortunately, age old reward systems are simply not providing fulfilling answers.  In many cases, traditional reward systems are not enough to keep people happy.

 Understanding the Purpose and Impact of Our Working Lives

Because we spend a lot of time at work, most of us need to understand how our work provides value.   (As I will explain later, an element of this is about the impact we make and the reach that impact has in the world.)

The first thing we need to understand is that we are all connected.  The work we do matters.  Our actions ripple outside the walls of our offices and conference rooms.   Once we understand this, it can be a source for inspiration and, by extension, our work (even the more mundane activities) becomes uplifting rather than draining.

Knowing that our work has value enriches us once we understand the connections.  But sometimes we cannot see the value of our actions or the impact we have in the world.  Maybe we were never shown.  Maybe it is not obvious.  In an environment where someone writing a piece of software for their organization can literally impact millions, you have to wonder how we cannot see it?  But, I would contend that this blindness is endemic within the working world and many managers don’t see the importance of communicating this message.

Communicating Value

Ok, I understand that sounds like another ivory tower proclamation.  So let me put a real world example forward.  A team of people (contracted through consulting company A contracted through consulting company B via individual contracts on an H1-B visas) are assembled to support a software development initiative in Healthcare.  The work is break/fix and small enhancement work that will be given to them a drip at a time. The team gets no big picture understanding of the grandiose initiative.  But, they accept their work. They show up on time. Within the context of their narrow perspective, how do they prove their value?  Typically, by being the best they can be at the technical tasks in front of them.   (Thank goodness for cultures that support hard work or this would easily turn to chaos soup about half way through day two.)

Now imagine this same group assembled the same way.  But instead of being told they are being hired as software developers for break/fix work, they are told they are working on a major Healthcare initiative that will improve the lives of tens of thousands of people by making it easier to use their Healthcare benefits.  For example, their work will help the overstressed mom in the emergency room to receive the care she needs for her fevered 3-month old daughter without a call to a benefits help desk. Or maybe they will help a man who has just been told that his wife has a serious illness by allowing him to focus on helping his wife instead of arguing with his Healthcare company about a Declaration of Benefits statement.

Wouldn’t this be worth putting in a few hours each day in the life of the average IT professional? What if you kept a scorecard on the number of problems removed?  I think it would be very powerful and give the team renewed perspective on their personal impact.  (Especially if another company calls with an offer for more “exciting” or “valuable” assignment).

But our value in the workplace goes even further. While most of us understand the value of our jobs for our own families, what about the impact we have on our coworkers and their families? (Some great insight on this is Three Signs of a Miserable Job by  Patrick Lencioni).    Do you ever think about how you  affect a co-worker’s ability to  send their  children to college?  What about the families of your clients or our clients’ customers? The events of the recent recession have pointed to how tightly connected we are and how the ripple effects of a small group of peoples’ actions can affect huge numbers of people, positively as well as negatively.

People Want to Do Their Work and Go Home, Right?  Nope.

Positive Psychology is the study of happiness.   Over the past 35 years  this research has given us  tenants that can be applied to the workplace to enable employees to feel connected, have autonomy, pursue mastery and work towards a find meaning beyond self benefit.

So how do we address the challenges of workplace turnover? How do we get engagement from employees and make them happier?  Maybe one answer lies in getting a new perspective about what we do and its ripple effects. Start by communicating how our work adds value to co-workers and the world beyond. What we do matters when we understand our impact and the reach we actually have to make a difference from the work we do.

Reference material in addition to the inspiration of my colleagues and clients:

About the Author:

Mr. Heusner has over 16 years experience in all aspects of software development and technology leadership.  He has successfully led software development teams from multiple industries in startups, midsize companies and the Fortune 1000.  Currently, Mr. Heusner is a Client Partner at the Chicago-based custom software development firm Geneca, and plays an instrumental role in the adoption and success of Geneca’s unique Getting PredictableSMb best practices.

Special credit to Jessica Chipkin for her assistance in editing and helping me to be a better blogger!

Increase Your Job Satisfaction all by Yourself

Finding the simple way to evaluate your daily progress

I’ve recently spent time helping people to understand how they add value in the work that they do for a living. Not from an impact point of view, but how do they know that they are doing the right things and making progress. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ‘s book flow he identified that if people are to pursue mastery in their work it is imperative for people to have clear goals and feedback on their progress.

However most people haven’t even ever really been able to implement crisp goals, measure and then stick to them. We want feedback but are rarely able to get all of the feedback we require and each person’s needs are different at different times. But what if there was a small step you could take? Such as creating a system of self measurement to fill the echoing silence of the feedback we crave from others.

Ok, before you stop reading because you think this is another goal setting idea, let me explain. Most jobs people perform are done in large groups. The roles to be performed are often smaller portions of very large types of work. One person doesn’t build and maintain enterprise ERP system by themselves. And one person does not build and manage a fortune 500 company’s web presence as a solo act.

So maybe you help a group do things. How do you know you are doing the right things? What the heck do you measure at the end of the day that tells you you’re on the right path when these systems are always evolving? The How do you know to go on home knowing you’ve done A+ work and can relax after a job well done?

Each role in a work environment has something to measure. But what’s important? To add a wrinkle, what about jobs where you are not sure how to measure your progress, like management?

Measurements must be concrete available daily or at least weekly and must have value to the organization and why it exists.

If you can sit back for a minute and review what you do, you will find outcomes you can measure. Ask yourself, what would they do without you? Most businesses have been pared down and no longer have redundancy. If they do it is often short lived. If you don’t produce something maybe you earn something with a customer? Customers can be internal or external.

Thought of a few things? Go ahead I’ll wait. Now if you have one or two things or even nine, can you write them down? Can you group them? At the end of a workday could you tally a score? If so you have a start. Over time you can look at the value of what you are measuring.

But what if you are still having problems? Here are some additional examples. In customer service, how often did someone say “Thank you!”? In sales how many times did you add value for someone in your network today? In management, how many people did you make happier even a little bit today? Or how many roadblocks did you remove?

With simple measures, all you need to do is reflect for a few minutes at the end of every day to see your progress. Then adjust, self correct and see what you can do tomorrow. Over time these simple daily scorecards can be additive to other more formal scorecard and goal concepts, but it is such a low barrier to entry to start to track your activity and to give you immediate feedback. Once you know you won’t have to wait for that random pat on the back from someone else to tell you how productive you’ve been.

Credit goes to colleagues, clients and…

Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow – 1991 Harper

Patrick Lencioni – Three Signs of a Miserable Job – 2007 Josey Bass