Commentary

No Time To Think

A study released in January by the McKinsey Quarterly says "multitasking is not heroic; it's counterproductive. As the technological capacity for the transmission and storage of information continues to expand and quicken, the cognitive pressures on us will only increase. We are at risk of moving toward an ever less thoughtful and creative professional reality unless we stop now to redesign our working norms."

In other words, switching back and forth between Word and Outlook and Chat and Twitter and your gadget-fed newsfeeds ain't making you smarter, the way you think it does. In fact, it makes you stupider in the long run -- unable to focus on creative tasks that require uninterrupted alone time (while assembling this paragraph, I checked incoming email three times).

The study goes on to recommend ways to limit interruptions so that you can actually read or think in silence -- including taking a walk outside the office and leaving your BlackBerry home on vacation (fat chance). In the pre-pervasive-electronics era this was called goofing off. We allowed machines to answer our calls while we spent an hour at the driving range or snuck in a matinee. To get emails, we had to go back to the desktop and log in. The only distracting thing we did in the car was push buttons that carried us from one annoying radio commercial to the next in search of a snatch of music before we arrived.

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These days, you can put some panties in some serious twists if you don't respond to texts and emails within minutes. Fortunately, since nobody uses the phone (or should I say "phone function") anymore, you don't have to worry about returning calls. But God help you if you are off the grid for more than an hour.

I contend, though, that there are still lots of ways to goof off -- even if you have to call them "client meetings" or "conference calls" to justify your periods of electronic silence (saw that 12 emails came in since I started this column).

An aside: when I get a notice that someone is now following me on Twitter, although I only tweet about as often as Halley's Comet returns, do I drop them a note and say "Thank you" or "What on earth for?" Sorry, I see I interrupted myself.

Go see your kid play a sport. Most of these games are right after school in the middle of the afternoon; for reasons beyond human knowledge, the mobile reception always sucks in and around schools (though they seem not to affect the 200 texts a day your kid says he isn't sending during school hours). This is especially gratifying if you are male, since the only others in attendance are mothers -- some of whom are cute enough to strike up a conversation with. Your kid thinks you are there to support him, so don't spoil it by thinking about how to solve some business problem that you are too distracted to think about in the office. You might miss the only goal he scores all season.

Annoy repairmen. Even though you would be unamused if some guy in overalls stood over your shoulder making suggestions while you tried to figure how you lost an entire nine-panel presentation deck you just spent two hours working on, you are entitled to chat up repairmen who come to your home while you are keeping home office hours. Even though you don't know jack about refrigerators or the irrigation system, there are now enough electronics in them for you to throw out terms like "default settings" and "auto reset" that are bound to impress the repair guy with what you have learned from owning a laptop, an iPad and an iPhone. Don't worry if you have nothing to say when he explains the real problem. Just nod knowingly and validate with a "Hmm, just what I suspected." Guaranteed to kill at least an hour.

Home Depot. Nothing will put your head on a swivel like a kid at Disney World than a visit to a big-box hardware store. It is astounding how many things you will find that fall into the category of "How in the hell did I get along without one of those?" Row after row of connectors, flanges, tarps and tools will fill a shopping cart faster than you can think of reasons to explain to your wife why they are so necessary for survival. No matter that in six months they will still be sitting in the bag on the basement workbench. The point was to get away from interruptions for a while, and nothing is more absorbing than power tools and paint chips.

OK, I am now up to 53 emails and I missed an hour of tweets. I have thought about all this enough. Back to, um, work?

2 comments about "No Time To Think ".
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  1. Kathy Sharpe from Resonate Networks, April 22, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.

    Entertaining, never looked at my blackberry, though I can just feel that red light flashing. Sounds like a great ad for HD at the end.

  2. Victoria Bianchini from AdKeeper, April 24, 2011 at 9:39 a.m.

    Funny and true. Information is coming at us so fast it's hard to deflect it in exchange for the "thoughtful and creative professional reality" we long for.

    At the office we talk about focus and how important it is to a company's success. We also talk about time and how to make the most of it.

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