by Mandy Green, Busy Coach
I have been a guest speaker on a lot of zoom calls lately where I have shared that I believe coaches need to be organizing their days in the office just like they do practice.
One example I share is that you would never stop in the middle of a drill just to start a new drill that had just popped in your head. That would totally kill the flow and you would never really get better at anything because you are always jumping from drill to drill. But coaches don’t think twice about stopping in the middle of something to start something new while working in the office.
On almost every single webinar, a coach has made the comment about how they tend to stop what they are doing to respond to emails as they come in.
They are multitasking because they are trying to be responsive and get more stuff done.
Researchers have discovered that the conscious human brain doesn’t really ‘multi-task’ because it can only focus on a single thing, a single thought, at any given time.
So what most of us think of as multitasking in our conscious brain is actually very rapid switching or refocusing from one task or activity to another.
I have written about this before in other articles. If the tasks are different or unrelated, multitasking is an inefficient way of working because your brain has to keep changing its “context” as you move from task to task, which is a combination of the knowledge, information and skills that you need to perform each task.
So, when you switch to a different or unrelated task, the ‘context’ is totally different and your brain has to “load” the new context before you can work on the new task, and that takes time and effort, and it can even create stress that drains your energy.
While this research focuses on people that do multiple tasks at the same time like typing an email while talking on the phone, or trying to drive while texting, the same principle applies when you jump from one unrelated task to another.
You have to get ready and “switch contexts” before you can become fully productive on the new task. For complex mental work, it can take well over five minutes to reach a state of maximum productivity.
For example, let’s say that you are writing an email for your recruits on the benefits of a new indoor space your team will be using in the winter that is being built on your campus. After you finish writing a few sentences, a thought pops into your head and you decide to call Josh in the business office about a discrepancy you noticed on the recruiting receipts you turned in.
However, before you call Josh, you have to switch gears, find the receipts or documentation, remember what the discrepancy was, figure out what to say, and then call Josh and either talk to him for a few minutes or leave him a message.
Then, when you try to go back to working on the recruiting message, you have to switch gears again by putting the recruiting receipt discrepancy out of your mind and remembering all of the relevant details for the message, like where you left off, wheat you were going to write about next, etc.
This time that you need to regain your mental context amounts to wasted effort. You would have been much more productive if you just focused on your recruiting message and worried about calling Josh later.
Even if you try rapid refocusing, you still have to pay a significant multitasking penalty when you jump from one unrelated task to another.
You just can’t get around the fact that you have to switch gears and regain the mental context needed for each unrelated task.
Bottom line, whether you realize it or not, all of this switching during the day is exhausting your physical and mental resources.
I was starting to realize that after a day of multitasking, by the time I would get to practice that I was exhausted. Or was completely exhausted by the time I’d get home. I knew that my team needed a better version of me at practice and I owed it to my family to be physically and mentally there for them when I got home.
- A few quick ideas, that should be reminders for you if you have been reading any of my other articles, to implement into your day:
- Working on related tasks for a block of time is much more effective because you don’t waste time with this multitasking penalty and because it helps you get into the flow state where you can work much more productively.
- The best way to do this is to focus on a single project, which has related set of tasks with a common purpose, for an uninterrupted block of time.
- You can also use batching to work on related tasks that share a similar activity, like making a bunch of calls at the same time, or dealing with all the paperwork, or answering several emails one after the other. While this is still not as good as focusing on a single project, it’s much better than working on completely unrelated tasks.
Try it coach, your family and team will thank you.
Mandy Green is the president of Busy Coach and is the leading productivity expert for college coaches. Want more productivity advice? You can email Mandy to set up a conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.