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Too Busy Doing Business to Do Business

Posted Apr 06 2011 12:06pm

I just met with a corporate Executive VP in Philadelphia. I'll call him Les. Les said his division was struggling. But instead of leading the charge to turn things around, he was constantly being called into meetings to deliver lengthy, detailed, Powerpoint presentations explaining what was wrong. He was too busy doing business to be doing the business.

Interestingly, one of his recommendations was for the company to get out of some of its operations because they were draining money and other resources. He explained that his people were spending too much time on things that no longer yielded the kind of margins the company desired.

Does any of this sound remotely familiar to you? I realized while he was talking to me that I had gotten up at 5 a.m. to deal with emails from a European client; spent time on the cell phone in transit with a non-profit, pro bono client who needed to talk; and allowed myself to be sidetracked by hallway conversations with managers from the client group who I hadn't seen in a while. A similar schedule unraveled today.

The Fallacy of "More Is More"

Multitasking_delays In a well-known graph about productivity and multi-tasking (from a 1990′s  Harvard Study  by  Steven C.Wheelwright  and  Kim B.Clark ), two researchers showed the benefits of multitasking – but only in situations where the subject worked on two things at once. Any more than two, and productivity declined. A lot.  This graph shows the results of productivity as related to number of tasks. 

The Lesson: People who multitask actually do far worse on performance than people who eliminate distractions and focus their attention on one or two things.

What to do?

1. If you do business globally in the electronic age, the expectation is that you are available on "their" time...or you should be. So choose carefully--you can't afford to be awake 24 hours a day.

2. Time management isn't really about time. It's about clear priorities. Which means...

3. It's important to say "no." In fact, I think "no" is the solution to a lot of this craziness. It's almost impossible to say "no" with confidence unless you are clear about what's really important.

4. If you are in Les's position, at some point you need to tell those above you that the very act of "over-reporting" is exacerbating the problem. Do it respectfully. Share the impact and consequences on your business and let them take responsibility for whether or not it makes sense to continue the external demands on your time.

What priorities will you clarify today so that you do the right business?

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