03.30.16

A Case for ‘Delivering Value’ in a Busy World

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 28% of a knowledge worker’s day is wasted in interruptions and distractions. Other surveys show 1.5-3.0 hours a day of a knowledge worker’s time is spent on private matters. March Madness cost US businesses over $1.7 Billion in lost productivity.

It seems being “busy” has somehow become a badge of honor in our culture. There is a prevailing attitude that equates being busy with hard work. Many people confuse activity (being busy) with outcomes (moving the needle on what matters to the success of your organization). In a recent Harvard Business Review article, service excellence was defined as “creating value for others, outside and within the organization.” More and more people in their busyness confuse results and effort. Sage advice I received on my first day of employment with General Electric in 1986 was “results not effort get rewarded here and loyalty is twenty four hours deep, and on Friday’s we are even.” This is inspiring and rattling advice at the same time, but it has served me well over the years.

Put simply, multitasking kills productivity. A recent study put out by the University of Michigan showed that switching what you’re doing mid-task increases the time it takes you to finish both tasks by 25%.

“Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” author David Meyer said. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

Beyond interruptions, busyness does not make it possible for the brain to function at optimal performance. That’s because when you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

And there is research to prove it. Researchers from the University of Sussex studied the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) in tandem with MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density, which suggests this multitasking activity trains the brain to become mindless and unproductive.

So if all this research points to poor outcomes, then why do we keep multitasking? The short answer: social stigma. According to a study from the University of Chicago, people have internalized the belief that busyness is a sign of success and therefore they fear inactivity. We are naturally drawn to being busy despite the fact that it can hurt us in the long run. Focusing our energy (because it is really about our energy and not busyness) on the important things that matter and investing our energy in value creating activities (the ‘right things’) for our organizations and ourselves is really the best thing we can do for our wellbeing.

How do you keep from getting too busy? We need to focus on outcomes and not activities, results not effort, and keep an honest appraisal and score of how we are doing on creating value for our organization and ourselves. This will make you distinctive and noticed in your organization.

Share your thoughts or key insights and strategies in the comments.

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