We don't have the ability to multi-task AND do something well. Worse yet, multitasking isn't really saving us any time either.
If we were really serious about getting results, we would stop doing it immediately and figure out how to stay focused. Need proof?
It's a fascinating read. But what caught my attention was something more immediate and relevant to my sales productivity.
According to Ms. Rosen, "workers [take] an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task."
Imagine summing the costs of all those stops-and-starts over the course of a year. By one account, they top $650B annually in the United States alone. Can we really afford to be so scatterbrained? What can be done?
What Manufacturers Can Teach Us About the Costs of Multitasking
I learned of an analogue from my time in the manufacturing world: it's called setup cost. Setup cost is incurred every time a plant prepares an assembly line or workcell to build a new product.
More than just the time required to get ready to do work, setup cost represents time not producing the product (and not generating revenue).
Plant managers go to great lengths to figure out how to stay focused and limit the impact of setup costs, usually by running lines or processes as long as they can before switching over to the next one.
Therein lies the lesson for your sales productivity. Realize that you incur a "setup cost" whenever you must come up to speed on a new task.
The cost varies with the complexity of the new task but, more importantly, you also lose focus and momentum on your previous task. In short, every one distraction causes two losses.
Learn When to Say "When"
Dan Markovitz of TimeBack Management touches on this point and offers insightful suggestions to improve personal efficiency in the article Cogitus Interruptus: The Case for Focus.
I would put it this way: do what the manufacturers do. Stay focused on one task to completion and just say "no" to diversions.
In my view, people have no idea how to stay focused for sales productivity. They don't say "no" nearly enough. They take on whatever is asked of them.
Worse yet, they willingly divide their attention the same way I have all morning: answering email while talking on the phone and updating my blogs while making vacation plans and surfing the Internet.
By habitually disrupting our focus so that we never have deep, insightful thoughts we aren't helping ourselves (or anybody else). If you're frustrated by how difficult it is to accomplish anything meaningful, then you've reached this point already.
Someone once remarked "strategy is deciding what not to do." From a team perspective, it's important not to jump at every opportunity. Decide where not to commit resources, what deals not to pursue, and what inquiries not to answer.
If you never say "no" then how will your people know which activities are high priority and which are not? How will people stay engaged over the long term if they are continually distracted and perpetually playing catch up?
Every choice you make or task you accept can move you closer to your goal of higher sales productivity or drag you farther away from it. The difference between success and failure is learning how to stay focused and knowing when to say "no."
Where would you focus more effort in your efforts, if you could? What sales productivity benefits could you get?