March 22, 2010
7:30 Monday morning, while making coffee, watching for the cats to return to the back porch from their daily constitutions, emptying the dish drainer, getting more coffee from the freezer to refill the container, I heard an interview on NPR with former Google CIO Douglas Merrill, author of a new book called Getting Organized in the Google Era.
Merrill says that “Our brains simply aren't designed to deal with the pressures and competing demands on our attention in today's fast-paced, information-saturated, digital world.”
What stopped me in my busyness was his comment “no one can multitask.” He went on to explain that when we try our brains must jump from back and forth in context, and it’s much better to complete one task, or group related tasks together. That when we multitask, we do a lot of work wrong.
In an Inc.com article, he explains that “People in the trenches tend to have longer projects and work on one thing at a time. By contrast, in one day the leader of a small company might worry first about marketing, then pricing, then rent, and a host of other things. Each time he swaps from one task to another, he loses some effectiveness. Consequently, business leaders should try to organize their days to minimize context shifts...so they can worry about one kind of thing at a time.”
Merrill said his own office is filled with piles of paper and sticky notes, what someone would think is disorganization, but to him, it’s not. He goes through the seeming mess once a week, throwing out what he doesn’t need. He lets e-mails pile up in his inbox until he understands what use they have in achieving a goal, and only checks e-mail “at home, but only from 10 p.m. to midnight.”
His advice to us worker bees: “even if your bosses expect you to multitask, don't try to work on more than one assignment or project at any given moment.” Merrill recommends talking with our bosses so that they have “realistic expectations...about how long it takes you to complete your work.” (OK, this made me chuckle. A conversation like this would have me labeled as unproductive, not part of the team.)
I haven’t read his just-released book, but from what I’ve read on-line, it sounds like he’s mostly talking to CEOs who hold jobs like he did at Google. According to his blogger.com profile, he’s only 39—just a pup—and he’s never been “in the trenches,” or a woman