Capturing the attention of the habitual multi-tasker
The pros and cons of multi-tasking have been debated for years. Some researchers suggest that multi-taskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time, while others argue that moving back and forth between different projects prevents boredom, keeps you inspired and makes you more creative. Personally, I believe that there’s ‘bad’ multitasking and ‘good’ multitasking, and that there are many advantages to splitting your mental resources—as long as you do it correctly. Whichever camp you’re in, I admit, for better or worse, that I’m a hardwired multi-tasker. My brain operates much like the arrivals board at the airport, forever reorganizing and prioritizing based on any number of events and influences. So to confine me to a hotel conference room for three days of mandatory “education”, you may as well have fed your 4-year old a triple fudge sundae and super-sized coke, then asked them to sit still for the afternoon.
This is exactly what happened to me at when I worked for a local insurance company.
I was instructed to attend a 3-day management workshop with 100 peers of varying discipline—no Internet and no scheduled time to check in with my team. It was during an insanely busy period, with deadlines fast approaching on a number of high-profile projects. At first I thought, “This could be good for me.” But as the session unfolded, I endured numerous topics that were in no way relevant to my specific field, and others that were so generic that I felt if people didn’t already know the answer, they had no business being in that room in the first place. I was desperately checking my smartphone under my desk, sending notes back to anxious teammates who needed my help or advice on completing tasks. I would mentally check in and out of the session occurring around me, listening just closely enough to answer a question should I be called on from the crowd. It’s not that I was reluctant to participate; it’s just that the deadlines don’t move just because I’m essentially MIA. I had to prioritize, and I chose the work.
Being very budget conscious, I looked around the room, noting peers who had been flown in from all over the country for this session. Doing the rough math, it genuinely pained me to think of the expenditure for this workshop, when trying to secure budget for my departments tactical responsibilities was like pulling teeth.
Various people from human resources presented their PowerPoint decks on how to be a good manager, and “guest speakers” (i.e. whichever V.P. had a window in their schedule) spoke on how they handled ‘change’ within their teams. All very well intentioned material, but after the 100th slide of bullet points and stock photography, I was bored beyond recovery. Add boredom to the stress of thinking about the work I should be doing, and it’s the perfect storm for losing the attention of the habitual multi-tasker.
So, how do you connect with this persona?
1. Keep it frequent and bite-sized. Don’t force a multi-tasker to endure long sessions focusing on a singular subject. It causes anxiety and the checkout rate is high.
2. Keep it relevant. Within the brain of the multi-tasker, information deemed irrelevant will be shuffled and demoted to accommodate more relevant priorities.
3. Keep it fun. A learning delivery method that blends gamification with social rewards will be a welcome experience for your multi-tasker, providing education along with a brief mental break. How’s that for multi-tasking?
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