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If Less Is More, Is More Less?

It’s our annual planning season and we’re knee-deep in goals and strategies and budget spreadsheets. I love and hate this time of year because it’s loaded with possibility, but it also tends to draw a sort of shade over the work we’re currently doing. And that’s bad because we’re in the middle of really important work – ironically, the very work we were so excited about last year at this time.

So I went looking for a little Zen to help me stay in the moment. Zen Habits is loaded with simple, practical guidelines for achieving big by focusing small. Leo Babauta nicely describes important concepts like figuring out what’s essential, clarifying the impact you’re looking for, and why and how to place limits.

Now I think I need more than just a little Zen, because I’m realizing I’ve been here before. I’ve told myself to narrow and focus. But I always get lured away by the forbidden fruit of “just this one other project.” This devilish voice in my head starts shouting, More, I want to do more! And my coworkers and colleagues are forever tempting me with these new exciting opportunities. I delude myself into thinking that I can chock my days fuller and still get my work done, and I end up multitasking. But am I really doing more?

I took this nifty test developed at Stanford University to see how well I multitask. Try it: Multitasking Test

Wow, I scored off the chart… in a bad way. Bottom line, I stink at multitasking. Humbling!

Take the test. You might score better than I did, but don’t get too cocky – because according to Neuroscientist and MIT Professor Earl Miller, none of us really multitasks. It isn’t physically possible. What we’re doing is switching from one thing to the next really fast. And, he says, every time we do – we lose time because we’ve got to refocus. Net result: multitasking = taking longer to do a poorer job.

So is more less? Well in my case, at least, yes!

Mark Twain said, “It takes nine months to have a baby, no matter how many people you put on the job.” This is now written on my 2011 planning folder. And I’ve bookmarked Zen Habits, because I recognize I need help kicking my addiction to “more.” I don’t want more, what I really want… is to achieve impact!

Photo 1: Geo Images



Heather - no offense, but glad you didn't do well on the test either. ;-) I've been working on one of the "power of less" steps from Zen Habits - cleaning my email inbox to zero. It's AMAZING what a lift this is giving my days. Trying to keep it up for 30 days - at which point it should be a new habit. You're right - change isn't hard, it's a choice!


Excellent blog Bert! This multi-tasking issue happens with a lot of folks who have loads of passion in fields where there is still much work to do. It is who we are (or becoming) and between our cultural fog and economy cuts, multi-tasking on a high level has become the expectation. In this field of animal welfare, it is way too easy to get consumed by the fire.

So kudos to you for recognizing that it might not be good for you or for the rest of us. You are right, the research is there showing multi-tasking does not increase productivity. The problem is in implementation. Research is also out there about how doughnuts and french fries are not good for the body, yet many of us still eat them too often. I also disagree that change is hard. In one moment to the next, you simply make the other fruit instead of the doughnut, say no rather than yes to _____ (that project, that phone ringing, Facebook, etc). Keep it simple and streamlined. I love it.

By the way, I did poorly in the test too. ;-)

"Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means." - Dr. Koichi Kawana, Architect


Yea for the empty email inbox, Bert! Love the test but I like brain puzzles. Not sure I understood the results.... apparently I'm slower than your average multi-tasker but my switch time is lower and answers were correct. I'll take pride in the correct and move onto something else now....

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