Multitask and avoid workplace ADD

Q. I'm starting to wonder if I have ADD at work. At home I can focus fine, but I get into my office and the demand to multitask makes my brain numb. By lunch I am so overwhelmed I just sit at my desk and stare. What do you tell your executive coaching clients to help them manage the amount of multitasking I have to face every day?

A. Everyone at work is wondering if they have ADD these days. The amount of complexity and multitasking that all of us walk into every morning is overwhelming. Consider yourself observant, not an organizational wimp, if you feel numb by noon.

Studies point out that the pace of change in many organizations is becoming so fast that it is outstripping many people's ability to function. Our brains literally do freeze up when change, multitasking and complexity exceed our ability to act on our thinking.

Since there is no evidence that the demand for multitasking will decrease, we all have to know how to simplify our jobs. Start by sitting down and making a list of every item you feel responsible to cover on your job. Now evaluate this list and consider, is it realistic?

If your current list of tasks couldn't be done by Superman, then you'll need to talk to your boss. Tell her or him that you realize your job performance is suffering because the time needed does not match the time available. Ask him or her to rank your job responsibilities. Now make a revised list based on your boss's priorities and submit it to your boss.

You may be afraid your boss will think you're a lazy idiot because you are admitting you have to sleep and eat once in awhile. The truth is that employers want results. If you negotiate your job tasks now, your chance of keeping your job just went up greatly. If you pretend you can get your job done and fail, you've just guaranteed a spot on the unemployment line later.

Once you have a human-sized job again, be aware that job responsibilities tend to multiply like rabbits. Get a good grip on these tasks before they get out of hand by putting the tasks in two categories: tasks that can be done in less than 10 minutes, and everything else.

At the beginning of each day, knock off most of your 10-minute jobs. You'll feel less stressed and more capable when you now tackle your significantly smaller list. Part of why people freeze up at work is the sheer quantity of the work they have to do. When you get rid of numerous mosquito-size jobs first thing in the morning, they can't suck away your concentration the rest of the day.

If, despite all these new tricks, you find yourself numb by noon, lower your expectations for a moment and breathe. Set aside your usual list and ask yourself what one task you'd like to complete before 5 p.m. Your brain will unfreeze, help you complete that task, and be available for other demands.

In many ways we are still cave men and women caught up in a work world our brains were not designed to manage. Use these tools to work with your brain and your focus and productivity will soar.

Last word(s)

Q. I don't like people pointing out what I don't know at work. I realize I have things to learn, but I'm embarrassed when people tell me. Is there a way to change the way I experience feedback?

A. Yes, realize each time you tolerate the embarrassment of discovering you have something to learn, you expand your professional toolkit. Who do you think will get the next promotion the workplace learner or the workplace know-it-all?

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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