‘Time is what we want most, but what we use worst’

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday, lunch is only an hour away, and you find yourself checking messages on your phone, your emails and filing some papers on your desk. All while listening to a coworker yammer about something inconsequential that he or she did that weekend.

Sound familiar? The Franklin Southampton County Chamber of Commerce young professionals’ group, F.U.E.L., live that life, too, and have some suggestions for dealing with distractions and using time more efficiently.

In the above scenario, the person is multitasking by thinking about lunch, text messages, emails, cleaning his or her desk and feigning being social with a coworker.

Multitasking makes you feel like you are getting more done, said F.U.E.L. presenter Mandy Hall. According to an Ohio State University study, Hall said students who juggled multiple activities while studying actually studied less, but they felt more productive.

“It may seem like a good way to get through your workday,” Hall said. “It’s almost the way of the world, and we all have to do it at some point. But what we need to do is realize what point we can put aside something and not multitask.”

Hall said there are three negative consequences of multitasking: attention and memory loss; poor cognitive performance; and lost productivity.

“High multitaskers actually have less brain activity,” Hall said. “Who realized that reading emails and talking on the phone at the same time is actually making you dumber?”

When you switch back and forth between actions, you are losing time picking back up where you are, and all that time and energy spent adds up.

Of all of the workplace distractions, emails are the worst, said Meghan Councill, the group’s president.

“If something tells me that I have an email, I will stop what I am doing and check it,” she said. “It’s a bad habit. Sometimes I have to lock my computer screen if I am talking on the phone.”

Hall said the worst thing about emails is that they are always there wanting to be read, like a hyperactive puppy seeking attention, but that’s also the best thing about them. They will not go away if you don’t check them as soon as your phone or computer dings to let you know it’s there.

“First, turn off notification pop ups or audio alerts, and only check them at regular intervals during the day,” Hall said. “For example, only check them for a specific time period every 90 minutes. Process the emails you can get to, and if you are not finished, get back to them in another 90 minutes.”

Another suggestion was to treat each email as a task.

“One good way to accumulate hundreds of emails is to let them sit and age,” Hall said. “How many times do you scan them to see who it is, and what they want? I know one person who will go back and read it over and over again before responding.

“It’s better to take care of it right then in there, and you are done. File it, delete it or respond, whatever has to be done.”

Crystal Butler of Crystal Marketing Solutions said she has a folder in her email specifically for emails that will take more time to reply to than she might have given herself.

“If it is going to take longer than I have time for, I file it for replying later,” she said.

FYI — for your information. Hall said these little guys can overwhelm you and are often cited as the reason for missing more important emails.

First, unsubscribe to all those marketing emails. Then, if you have the power to do so in your workplace, establish rules for FYI emails.

“For example, if there isn’t an action required of you — it’s purely information — have the sender put you in the CC box instead of the TO box,” Hall said. “You could also define a system of key words that can be used in the subject line to differentiate emails.

“But it is a big problem. You can become so inundated with FYIs that you lose information or the big picture.”

The same of emails is true of the phone, Hall said. If it isn’t urgent, it’s OK to let it go to voicemail. And like emails, you can check voicemails during specific time periods.

David Saunders of Farm Bureau, Courtland, said social media is almost as bad as email.

“I have clients who contact me through Facebook,” he said. “I almost have to leave it up during the day. If they can’t get me right away on my cell phone, my office call, they will send a message via Facebook.

“A lot of them would rather deal with communications in that way — they can send it and go about their day.”

Hall said social media is replacing email for a lot of people, as not everyone can reach you that way. But it’s also a big distraction, and she said if it is not required to log into Facebook or Twitter for your work, it is best avoided.

“You might think it is a good downtime activity, ‘Oh, let me check Facebook and see what is going on,’” Hall said. “You might think you are taking a break, giving yourself a treat. But it is not, it’s too much like work to give you that mental break that you really need.”

The best way to get a break is to walk around, stretch or look out the window. If those don’t work, you could also dial a friend.

“Let’s get a margarita somewhere tonight,” Hall said with a laugh. “Anything that’s not mimicking the actions of working is good.”

After the meeting let out early, Cathy Pittman, a mortgage loan officer of ABNB Federal Credit Union, said she would kill the sound that happens when she gets an email. She would also set up a time for checking her emails.

Lastly, she’d reevaluate her thoughts on multitasking.

“I used to be an advocate for multitasking,” Pittman said. “I’ve heard a lot of bad about it lately, including here. It’s just unfortunate because in some careers, you really have no choice but to multitask.”

As the founder of the province of Pennsylvania, Quaker William Penn once said: “Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more.”

“Overall, I think business owners and corporations should hold something like this for employees more regularly,” Pittman said. “They should find out the things that are distracting them, and also what will help improve productivity.”