Can't get quality thinking when you are multitasking

SolitudeA couple people on Twitter pointed to the text of a speech by William Deresiewicz and published in The American Scholar as Solitude and Leadership. The speech is a great statement about what it takes to be considered a leader - namely enough time alone to have your own thoughts. I particularly liked this quote about 2/3 of the way through the talk.

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

One of the hidden damages that happens as a result of multitasking is that people end up losing their train of thought. And when that train of thought goes off the rails, it is more difficult to put together the pieces of deeper ideas. I've extolled many times the other issues associated with multitasking: more quality problems; more safety issues; and longer lead times for everything. This connection to thinking is interesting too.

Deresiewicz makes the connection to one's ability to think and develop their own opinions and thoughts on a matter. Multitasking prevents this, just as it damages quality and safety. And the solution is similar: give yourself (and your people) the direction needed to focus on ONE THING AT A TIME. Don't try to do ten things at once.

[Photo: "Solitude" by Kevin]

1 Comment(s)

Very true.

One of the most impressive business leaders I've had the pleasure to know is Dov Frohman, the inventor of the EPROM chip and the founder and first GM of Intel in Israel. Dov wrote a book about leadership recently, and it has a whole section about "the discipline of daydreaming" - assigning time for unstructured associative thinking. That's where you can get your best ideas, and it is the exact opposite of the multitasking paradigm...

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