By Michael Holland –

Whether alone or in meetings, many believe that they are getting lots of work completed because we are great at multi-tasking.

There’s an urban myth that says we are so much more productive because we are multi-tasking.

But science proves it wrong: we actually do things in sequence.  Now, those sequences might be in milliseconds so it appears to ourselves and others that we are multi-tasking.

The reality is your brain is constantly switching between listening in the meeting, processing the body language of those around you, answering the MS Teams message on the phone while eyeing the email that just popped up on your open laptop, and remembering those items you need to pick up on the way home from work.

Each switch creates a tiny lag in productivity.

What’s really scary is the massive productivity loss that is occurring every minute of every day across so many organizations.

In Cal Newport’s highly acclaimed book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, we learn about shallow work versus deep work.

The distraction prone shallow work makes us feel good because we are getting things done while consuming lots of information.  But the lack of focus results in lower engagement and productivity.

Here are three ways to try and be less shallow over the next week.

Be Present in Meetings

When in one of your meetings, set your phone to airplane mode, close your laptop, have a piece of paper in front of you and a pen.

Look at the person speaking and really listen to them using all your energy to really hear what they are saying and NOT what you think they are going to say and NOT what you planning to say back to them.

Take notes but definitely make sure you do NOT doodle.

Working on a Task or Project, Turn Things Off

As you get ready to work on a project or task turn off everything around you.

Close email or turn off the alerts, put your phone in airplane mode or better yet turn it off, take off your Apple watch or other nifty wrist based tracker/communicator.

Only have the tools or applications needed for the task or project near you or visible.

Talk to Yourself

As you are in the middle of multi-tasking ask yourself, what is the single thing I’m supposed to be thinking about or doing right at this moment.  What is the one thing I need to do for the next 30 seconds.

Create a one word mantra that will be your trigger to pause everything for 2 seconds to create the opening to make a decision.  Here are some word suggestions: stop, timeout, Mississippi, sunshine, wait, flow, successful, shallowing.

The difficulty we all face is the behaviors we’ve created, and the behaviors that our leaders have modeled for us, have become ingrained habits.  Adjusting habits is tricky and takes a great deal of energy and discipline.

So challenge yourself to invest the energy and be curious about how you could be better at leading well if you were to try the above suggestions over the next week.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • At this exact moment, how many distractions are around you and how many different thoughts are running through your head?
  • Would it be hard for you to not have your phone turned on during a meeting? Why?
  • Grab a peer leader and together take on the challenge for the next week implementing the suggestions.  After the week is over, talk with each other about what you each experienced.