Multitasking and the 30-second rule

by Betty Lochner on June 12, 2012

 Girl in playground tubeHow many times have you been interrupted, changed your focus for a minute, and then thought “now, where was I?”

According to the work of Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, people who are interrupted take 50-percent longer to complete a task and make up to 50-percent more errors. According to Dr. Medina, multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. 

But, what about people who really are good at multitasking? Well, people that appear to be good at multitasking simply have the gift of quick memory recall and are capable of paying attention to several inputs—one at a time. Most, if not all, of us are in the 50% category, and distractions can interrupt our best attempts at successful communicating. No one can really do two things well at once. 

In our crazy busy world, we are often pressured into multitasking and the results usually aren’t good.
Take, for example, the worker in a fast food restaurant. She is on her headset taking the next order, while you are paying for yours. You get your change back with no eye contact, and she gets your order wrong. You are left with having to tell a three-year-old you aren’t going back for the Happy Meal toy because you are already five miles down the freeway.
Even if it’s unintentional, multitasking can be rude, inefficient, and annoying.

To illustrate how hard it is to multitask, try this exercise: 
  • Take your right foot and rotate it clockwise.
  • Now, with your right hand index finger make a number “6” in the air.
For many people this is a challenging exercise. You are doing two opposite things at once. Your brain simply isn’t wired to do more than one thing at a time.

The 30-second rule
Now, try this: give 30 seconds to listening, instead of dividing your attention.
Imagine yourself on the phone with a friend, and a two-year-old comes in with a rock and starts talking to you.

Do you:
1) Have both conversations at the same time?
2) Tell the kid to go away?
3) Take 30 seconds to address the “rock” and tell your friend to hold on for 30 seconds.
If you chose answer 3, you’re getting it!

Do you have trouble with multitasking?  Please comment and share your tips!


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of  Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home. And, it’s now available on Kindle! Check it out.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

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