How many of us have popped in to a teenager’s room while they have been doing their homework only to find music playing, multiple windows running on their laptop with various active chat sessions, Facebook, and other social media apps running, with occasional SMS conversations with friends – and still they’re managing to get on with their studies?
The above scenario is one that happens in most teenagers’ rooms around the globe and continues at their university lodgings too. Our first immediate reaction as adults is that an environment as described above cannot be conducive to productivity.
Why do we think that? It’s purely based on our experience. As we cannot truly multi-task, we believe that the current generation of teenagers can’t either. Well if that’s the case, why is the pass rate for A-levels up again for the 28th year in a row with 97.6 per cent of entries gaining an E grade or above? Surely if all these distractions were impacting their productivity, we’d be seeing a reduction in qualifications.
I, like many business leaders, carry mobile technology and am more efficient as a result. I can respond more quickly when I am mobile, and when it’s part of the workflow for business approvals, it means the company I am working for is more agile. However, I am definitely not a true multi-tasker. When required to produce a presentation or a written proposal, I need to focus, and the interrupting nature of services such as IM and Skype simply creates a distractive environment, and impacts my personal productivity.
For most of today’s workforce, the introduction of new technology can be disruptive – we have, so far, spent our careers mostly focusing on one task at a time. Many companies have introduced social networking and associated technologies into the corporate workplace, but with mixed results.
There are still many companies that block access to sites like YouTube, even though their competitors, and occasionally even their own companies, use it to help launch new products. Also, how many of us business leaders find it unacceptable for employees use a laptop or BlackBerry during a meeting? We usually see this as a sign that we don’t have their undivided attention. And the reality is, we’re probably right, as very few of us in the current workforce have been able to develop any kind of productive multi-tasking capability (this YouTube clip is a great example of how difficult multi tasking can be).
Please don’t misunderstand me: there are already exceptional people who can focus on multiple things at the same time, but they are just that – exceptional. The majority of workers today are most productive when concentrating on single tasks. But that’s all about to change as the next generation of employees join us.
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