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Pitfalls of Multitasking and the Fragmented Mind

Posted by Jody Urquhart on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 @ 04:15 PM

humorous guest speakerI discovered the other day that I can simultaneously conduct official business on the telephone while waxing my car and drinking Kool-Aid. It’s true that, like most people, I multitask a lot - and who can blame me? There are only 24 hours in a day. I also need inspiration, just to keep motivated, and I need to be doing several things at once.

The trouble with doing more with less is that the inevitable multitasking forces us to focus narrowly on doing several things at once. When focusing too narrowly, we often have little ability to accept unrelated thoughts. We ignore information, gut feelings and even clear indications in order to stay focused. In doing so we may completely miss signs that we are headed in the wrong direction, and waste the time and energy we thought we were saving! (Whoops! That’s not car wax, it's shoe polish.)  More mistakes happen.  In fact, all interpersonal skills go to the wayside . . . . Have you had a conversation with someone and it was obvious that they were thinking about something else?

Throughout the day, we categorize information, and we label people, situations and events to give the world meaning, to create distinctions and to predict outcomes. These mental patterns become habitual until we no longer question our perception, we just take it as reality.

In front of a conference of about 500 people, the keynote speaker and leadership expert was so consistently distracted by his phone going off, using his PowerPointpresentation, and pouring a glass of water that he continually forgot what he was saying. This really undercut his position as a leadership guru - the audience knew that he wasn't really WITH them.

Tunnel Vision

Compartmentalized thinking, where you only see things the way you think they should be, can completely ignore reality. This tunnel vision leads to outdated results, a build up of negative emotion, and stress and relationship strain. Things may be going terribly wrong but you will be unaware of all the signs (hmmm…my car has steam coming from the hood . . . must be normal).

Applied Curiosity

The way to get out of this rut is to challenge yourself to be curious and accept multiple possibilities. Resist the urge to make quick judgments or assumptions about what people intend or what they want (i.e. - Of course he’d think that - he’s a lawyer). Seek multiple interpretations for people’s behavior. In other words, consciously manage how you take in information, how you interpret it, and how you react to it.

Don’t become strongly attached to your ideas. That can become a crutch, the easy way rather than the best way.  Consider other possibilities. Every now and again laugh at your ideas so you don’t take them too seriously.

Pay attention to your gut feeling. If your gut says something is wrong, listen to it. Most of the time it means you are ignoring reality. (I forgot to call my grandma on her birthday; I’m sure she won’t care).

Engage a different part of your brain. When you are focused on detail, more often than not you have a short-sided perspective. This is when you need inspiration and positive emotion.

All about the chemistry-


Inspiration, laughter and any other positive emotion stimulate neural circuits that increase electrical activity in our left prefrontal cortex, leading to arousal of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. (That means positive emotion wakes you up!) Next, hormones are released including oxytocin in women and vasopressin in men which activate another set of hormones that lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system. (That means positive emotion is good for your health!) The person then feels happy, optimistic, positive, or amused. Once in this emotional state, a person is more likely to perceive ALL events as more  positive rather than negative. The broader positive perspective that results and can change the course of your entire day.

Make positive goals. People often create negative goals that focus on the wrong thing. For example: My goal is to lose weight. This negative goal arouses defensiveness, stress and the sympathetic nervous system. Instead, try:  My goal is to feel vibrant and look good. With a positive goal the parasympathetic nervous system can be aroused and provide positive energy for action. (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence)

Organizations tend to focus on the negative (not meeting goals, decreasing budgets, turnover) which focuses our energy as a team on the dark side and perpetuates the negative cycle. We notice people when they do something wrong.

Laughter’s Charm


A key to staying positive is simply to laugh!
Laughter gives you control over your brain's chemistry.
Laughter has a purging effect on stress hormones. Nurturing your sense of humor is a key weapon in your arsenal against the stress hormone rushes.


According to a recent “Professional Work Force” survey by guest motivational keynote speaker Peter Mc- Laughlin Co, a sense of humor helps on the job in three specific ways:


1. People with a sense of humor are three times as likely to report top levels of energy as those who don’t have a sense of humor.
2. Ninety percent of survey respondents believe that having a sense of humor helps them to perform better at work.
3. People with a sense of humor are half as likely to get anxious or frustrated fixing a problem and are twice as likely to be able to pull themselves out of a bad mood.

Think about it . . . and smile!

Things that make you go "Hmmmmmmmmmm"

Average times spent in our lives:

• 7 years in the bathroom
• 6 years eating
• 5 years in line
• 4 years cleaning house
• 3 years in meetings
• 2 years searching for things
• 8 months opening junk mail
• 6 months at red lights
• 40 minutes a day talking to our spouse
• 30 minutes a day talking to our kids

Tags: leadership skills, interpersonal skills, motivational keynote speaker, leadership expert

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