Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Multi-tasking: The Upside and Downside

by Jean Brittingham

There is a lot of chatter about how multi-tasking is a bad thing. This discussion has arisen from the incredible surge in technology that has enabled us to connect with vast amounts of information at every minute of the day. The amount and diversity of information that flows into our daily lives is unprecedented to the point that people are scapegoating multi-tasking in reaction to the inevitable distraction that results from poorly managed information flow.

But there is a distinction between distraction and multi-tasking. Distraction is what multi-tasking naysayers are talking about. Distraction occurs when you are "on-task" and some bit of information or something interesting pulls you off that task. Distraction can be deadly. It can keep you from meeting deadlines, doing quality work or even completing a thought. An antidote to distraction is discipline, and frankly, some technological savvy. Quick computer fixes include:
The Upside

Today, I want to focus on a well documented distinction between men and women in multi-tasking. Women can and do multi-task all the time. The primary reason we can pull this off is that our brains are wired to do so. This well-developed talent is due to millions of years of evolved focus on lesser tasks while simultaneously doing the primary tasks for the survival of the species--caring for babies and children. A recent study demonstrated that the primary difference between men and women multi-tasking  is that while women didn't necessarily get more done than men when completing the same (multiple) tasks, they tended to make significantly less mistakes.
The Downside
What this means is that we do tend to take on more than our male counterparts do when we start our own businesses. We often tend to think we can do everything after experiencing success in our lives in handling not only multiple priorities but often simultaneous activities.

While multi-tasking is beautiful when it works, it can lead to overcommitment. Overcommitment will often back us into very tight places trying to be all things to all people in a rapidly shifting environment. We have a tendency to hold on to our obligations on all fronts--family, friends, social, and community commitments. In entrepreneurial settings, overcommitment is even more problematic because we're often working to the bone to fund our business since women have a harder time getting venture capital or loans for start-ups.

Sometimes we can pull it off. But usually, this type of overcommitment will slow us down and in the worse case scenario—it will cause us to lose motivation.

The antidote as I said is discipline, and the discipline is to prioritize. We need to multi-task where it counts. Make a list of the things in your company, business, and life that only you can doIt's still a big list--I know it is.

Now, pull off the most important 20% of that list. This will be hard, but you must make yourself do it. What are the things on that list that are critical? What are the things that no one else but you can do? These things should be strategic. The kind that build your business and sustain your life while you are getting it done.

Next, give most of the other two lists away. Get someone else to do them or accept that they wont get done for now.

Always remember, you are not a bad person if you don't do everything for everybody. You are not expected to do more, be more and give more than others to achieve success in your business, your family and your life.

Letting things go may be the only way you will achieve success.

Multi-tasking is a skill and as women entrepreneurs, we do it better than many others. Just don’t let it be your enemy. Remember, you’re not just in charge of your business; you’re in charge of yourself.