They call it “multi-tasking.” I call it annoying. When I read about the merits of efficiency and the need to get more things done at once, it is always written from the perspective of the person doing multiple things at the same time. I have never seen this modern habit described from the point of view of the person interacting with a multi-tasker.
When I walk into a colleague’s office and he is talking to me while simultaneously reading and responding to emails while his eyes dart to his iPhone’s text message alerts . . . I am not impressed with the ability to do several things at once. Honestly, I get frustrated because I do not believe he is listening to me. Over time this pattern has grated on me to the point I try to schedule our meetings in a conference room in an effort to disconnect his work station from our conversation.
In a cross-cultural environment I think it is even more important to avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking. When I managed an office in Asia, a colleague introduced me to what he called the “5 Senses Rule.” It was so simple it seemed silly, but I have seen its remarkable power.
The “5 Senses Rule” operates like this: when interacting with people or projects give them all 5 senses.
Do not look at, listen to, touch, or smell other things. Don’t even taste things, if it will distract the person with whom you are interacting. The idea is to give all your attention to the person you are with or the task you are doing.
When I have faithfully implemented this simple, no-cost strategy, I have seen both relational and substantive benefits. I get more done when I am less distracted. Creating even small blocks of uninterrupted time allows me to write, think, create, and strategize with improved results. It also changes the nature of the relationship because giving someone else my full attention translates as giving them respect and reduces miscommunication.
I need to be better at this . . . and writing this will undoubtedly create some accountability. I want to put down my pen, push back from the keyboard, put my phone away, and let people know they matter. Focused attention produces better results in less time than serial distractions can.
My wife and I have even tried to implement this practice with our kids.
We give them all 5 senses and we ask them to give us all 5 senses whenever we are communicating. It practically means that people have to be in the same room when talking to each other, the screens have to be paused, and eye contact occurs. It has worked wonders.
Perhaps the most difficult place I have found to stay focused is in my faith. Distractions seem to erupt whenever I still myself to interact with my maker.
Good things occur when I give God all 5 of my senses. (tweet this)
Truth be told, I still listen to music when I work and sip coffee in meetings . . . but I try to only use these senses in a way that does not distract from the person I am with or the task to be completed. The “5 Senses Rule” harnesses the power of focus to enhance relationships and increase productivity at the same time.
Try it for a week and let me know what you think. If the people around you ask you to do other things while they are talking, you can always revert to multi-tasking. Otherwise, get more done and improve your relationships by using the “5 Senses Rule.”