An Email to Help With Email

After I interviewed Quicken Loans’ Chairman Dan Gilbert on my radio program last week, he and I were commiserating about our unceasing volumes of e-mail.  We’re bailing messages out of our Blackberries, but our buckets seem inadequate to keep pace with the incoming volume.  Then I was talking with someone at a reception the next day, and she said, “multi-tasking has changed the world, and there is nothing we can do about it.”   Well, to me that last clause has always been like a red cape in front of a raging bull.  “Nothing we can do????”
I am determined to fight back this week.  Fight for myself.  For my kids.  And offer aid to my co-workers and friends.  Because I’m quite sure this multi-tasking’s not all good.  There are two aspects that demand resistance. 
First, there is mounting evidence that multi-tasking diminishes overall productivity.  Dr. David Meyer, Chair of the Cognition and Perception Area in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan* is one of a number of researchers who have been observing people as they attempt to multi-task and carefully clocking times and results.  Dr. Meyer says that as people toggle, for instance, from email to other computer work, or from driving to cell phone calls, his clinical work is proving that their minds routinely lose time in the switch.  The one-second or so loss, Meyer suggests, can be fatal when you’re driving at 60 miles per hour and your concentration must be re-adjusted.  Researchers suggest we try serial activity — finish one thing, then start the next – as a way to more efficiently get the work done.  My commitment: I will NOT switch to email while in the middle of key concentration work this week, and I won’t drive-and-talk.
Perhaps even more damaging than the switching between work and work, is the multitasking between work and people.  I asked a roomful of HR managers last week how many were doing email and voicemail between 7 pm and 7 am.  About 70% of the hands went up.  I didn’t ask how many had kids.  Or how many of their kids were talking to them while they were emailing.  I am guilty of it.  Too often.  I make kids and co-workers and my spouse wait, as I follow the trail of an email whose rectangular flag has grabbed my attention.  How do I measure that loss?  More important, how do I start to get it back?
I LOVE email, but if you’re like me you’ve got to manage it better to lead
With your best self,


*  You can read a press release about one of Dr. Meyer’s studies here: