The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time 

I’ve previously written about multitasking and work induced attention deficit disorder.

I’ve also written about the burden of having two workdays every 24 hours – one for meetings and one for email

Yesterday, I was sent a post from the Harvard Business Review that summarizes these issues very well.

It highlights the problem and a series of solutions.

Nearly half of employees report the overwhelming stress and burden of their current jobs, not based on the hours they work, but the volume of multitasking – too many simultaneous inputs in too little time.  They’ve lost the sense of a beginning, middle, and an end to their day, their tasks and their projects.  There is no work/life boundary.

As a case in point, I’m writing now while doing email and listening to a Harvard School of Public Health eHealth symposium.   Am I being more productive or just doing a greater quantity of work with less quality?

The author of the post points to evidence that multi-tasking increases the time to finish a task by 25%.  He also notes that our energy reserves are depleted by a constant state of post traumatic stress induced by our continuous connectivity.

He suggests three strategies:

1.  Rather than multi-task, reduce meeting times to 45 minutes, leaving 15 minutes for email catchup and transition.

2.  Do not expect and do not support the notion that email should be a real time activity.

3.  Take breaks and ensure there are boundaries between work and non-work activities.

He suggests three personal best practices:

1.  Do your most important task of the day without interruption first thing in the morning.   That’s what I’ve done for years.

2.   Create specific dedicated time for long term, creative thinking.

3.   Take vacations.

A great post.  Unless all of us declare that the multi-tasking emperor has no clothes, continuous partial attention will only get worse.

John D. Halamka, MD, MS, is Chief Information Officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Chief Information Officer at Harvard Medical School, Chairman of the New England Healthcare Exchange Network (NEHEN), Co-Chair of the HIT Standards Committee, a full Professor at Harvard Medical School, and a practicing Emergency Physician. He’s also the author of the popular Life as a Healthcare CIO blog.

2 replies »

  1. Great ideas, John, particularly the one about reducing meetings from one hour to 45 minutes. I used to have a boss many years ago, who would conclude meetings when all business had been discussed/addressed, usually well before the hour was up. (It allowed attendees to return to their offices to respond to e-mails, catch up on work, or even run and get a cup of coffee, which they didn’t think they’d have time for.) I’m always struck by the fact that people feel compelled, if they’ve called an hourlong meeting, to talk and fill up that entire hour, when, in fact, half an hour or 45 minutes would have sufficed. Sometimes less is more.

  2. I totaly agree with these advices, I normaly work for 50 minutes, with my mail programm off, then I take some time to answer the mail, take a coffee or walk around. This way I can cope very well with my one track mind.