I recently heard a speaker who suggested, to a roomful of hyper-productive multitaskers, a radical reorientation of how to spend time. This speaker, a successful investor and investment adviser, doesn’t write emails, doesn’t multi-task, and doesn’t have a Pavlovian response to a Blackberry’s red blinking light. Based on his own experience, he suggested that successful decisions come when we create space for deep contemplation and reflection – when we create the time that allows us to we walk around and look at our problems with the curiosity and reflection of a poet who studies a rock, or a beach, or the morning sky.
A lovely idea that is easy to dismiss, to be sure – and many in the audience had just that reaction. One person went so far as to give an impassioned argument in favor of the efficiency of multi-tasking (while conceding that he agrees with Clifford Nass’ research showing that multi-tasking doesn’t work).
Why are we all so defensive? Perhaps because we kid ourselves into think that we’re almost getting done 100% of what we need to get done. We’re super-busy, but, we tell ourselves, we’re probably completing 90% of what we absolutely must get done, and the other 10% probably isn’t all that important anyway, right? And if we’re getting 90% done, then cutting out half of our meetings or not responding to half our emails sounds impossible. It feels like a move from 90% to 60%. Imagine the impact!
But I wonder if the 90% is an illusion. What if I’m doing 15% of what I could do, or even 5%? What if I’m nowhere near doing everything I could do that would be productive, because “everything” has gotten so big that I’m never anywhere but the tip of the iceberg.
If I’m only doing 5% of what I “could” do, then a radical shift becomes easier. By acknowledging that I’m the one deciding how I spend the time, and by recognizing that my criteria might be really good or really bad, I just might create the space for that radical reorientation.
Am I ready to make a big change? Not yet. But I do think that doing away with the notion that I’m doing “almost everything” will allow more space for doing what I really need to do.