TIPS: Multi-tasking and Handling Interruptions

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Multi-Tasking and Handling Interruptions
by Career Strategist and Life Coach, Laurie Sheppard

It is no longer a question whether or not to multitask, but how we can do it without dropping a beat. We are constantly connected to multiple forms of stimulus and available for interruptions. 

We take our laptops on business and personal trips. Wireless systems everywhere make it easy to connect for emails or to call someone on Internet-based phone sites. Social network sites have escalated to billion dollar businesses. We carry cell phones that ring annoyingly in public places or vibrate in our pockets till we’re pulled away from who or what we already elected to focus on, to have a loud sidebar with someone else on the phone. Public cell phone users expose us to the intimate details of their life while we walk past them in post offices and cleaners, or worse yet, as we stand next to them in waiting lines. Text messaging abounds, while its shortcut language further separates communication between the younger and older generations – but perhaps not for long. I saw a middle-aged woman last weekend at a play who was constantly pulling her phone out to text message, until an usher spotted the bright light from it and told her to kindly put it away.

Our downtime, the little we had staked out for ourselves, is being eaten up by the constant demands of others and our own urge to stay connected to everyone and everything at all times. Has communication become more important now, or is it the fascination with our toys and machinery that lure us to use them?

Considering Americans are relatively new to many of these products, it’s possible we’re still in an early fascination phase. That’s what Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University and author of "Always On:  Language in an Online and Mobile World," says is the case. She looks at how technology influences our learning and behaviors. Baron said, "My hope is that Americans are only going through a phase of feeling they must be ‘always on’ and that over time, we will regain a more balanced sense of communicative equilibrium."

Even watch alarms or other time-reminding alerts can negatively grab and redirect our attention, particularly when we were focused on something of importance.  We all know what it’s like to be in a discussion with someone and be interrupted, then come back to the conversation and realize we forgot what we were talking about. Paul Schutte, of Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, wrote "Assessing the Effects of Momentary Priming on Memory Retention During an Interference Task" for NASA. The discussion of memory aids and how to better prime the mind for effective mental recall. Download the PDF here.

1.  If you like to be plugged in and multitask, find ways to sharpen your memory that will otherwise become less sharp with constant interruptions.   

2.  Pay more attention to social courtesies and ask yourself whether or not it’s kind to others that you hold that outside conversation now. 

3.  Decide whether or not you want to be subject to constant connection through technology’s stimulus rather than be right where you are, with whom you’re with, or maybe enjoying your quietude. 

I think we’re missing the comfort that emptiness can provide and the insights and learning that come from still reflection and being "offline." What about you? Do you leave yourself open to constant external connections?

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