- It is an interesting time we are living in. We all seem to be rushing from one task to the next in pursuit of our goals. However, we seldom stop to think about how effectively we are achieving those goals and the inherit risks within. We attempt to multitask in almost every portion of our lives. Whether it is at work, with our families or even in our personal time, we are not focusing 100% on the ONE task at hand. I admit it, I am a chronic multitasker, but I have had the time recently to look at how effectively I am working as well as observing others, and I have seen we are missing some key performance improvement opportunities.
A few years ago, I had the honor to give a presentation on grid modernization trends and strategies to the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. There were about twenty people in the room and an unknown number on the phone. As nervous as I was standing in front of the seal of the White House, in the middle of my presentation I noticed something: nobody was looking at me. All of the people in the room were either on their laptops or on their personal devices typing furiously. I’d like to think they were taking notes, but I know better. So, in mid-presentation I stopped and stood there waiting to see what would happen. Within a few seconds, the organizer of the meeting waived to me in a “come-along” type of gesture and said without looking up, “We’re listening. Keep going.” I really didn’t know what to think. I was a bit angry and surprised at the lack of decorum in this place of all places. Nevertheless, I continued with the presentation. As I reflect on that day, I doubt many of those people in the room took away much from the meeting. Humbly, I contend that it wasn’t due to lack of content, but due to the fact that while these people were physically in the room, they weren’t mentally engaged. They weren’t “there.”
While I was working at Duke Energy, an initiative was launched that focused on the issue of multitasking and the potential negative impacts of it. The initiative was called, “Be Here Now.” This change management initiative’s basic premise relied on the belief that in order to maximize safety and quality of a task, a person should have their full attention on that particular task at any given moment and nothing else. In other words: distraction breeds inefficiency and possible safety consequences. This seems to be pretty basic and easy to understand, but putting the practice into action is an entirely different situation as the current cultural bias in the workplace is to multitask.
This is also true in our personal lives. We have all heard the statistics on distracted driving, yet many of us still talk on the phone, eat, change the radio station, read or who knows what else while we drive. The statistics are quite disturbing:
- In 2012, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-related crashes.
- About 421,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
- In 2012, 11% of drivers under age 20 involved in fatal accidents were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash.
- One-fourth of teenagers respond to at least one text message every time they drive and 20% of teens and 10% of parents report having multi-message text conversations while driving.
- Nearly half (48%) of drivers admit to answering their cell phone while driving.
- The most interesting statistic that I have read is that headset (hands free) cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held. The level of safety is not based on the medium for the conversation but on the intensity of the conversation itself. As the focus of the conversation becomes more engaging or intense, the less the individual is focused on the primary duty at hand – driving. The driver is no longer “here now” but focused on the conversation potentially leading to a horrific outcome.
As I have taken the time to reflect on all of these issues, I now find myself focusing more and more on the task at hand and not on other things. Mind you, this has been difficult. I have had to change many aspects of my daily life; how I plan my day, putting my phone away while I drive, changing my outlook settings (eliminating that irritating pop up saying you have new mail), and many other behaviors. What I have found is quite interesting: I am accomplishing more than before and my mental state is MUCH better. I am happier, more focused and much more effective.
So, ask yourself this question today: can you “Be Here Now?”