Note to Clients: Multitasking is a Myth

You think you can, but you can’t. I’m a freelance writer and I can tell from your phone conversations when you are also reading yourguy on cellphone and computer email. How do I know? You stop making sense. You do OK with yes/no questions, but if you need to think, I can hear crickets chirping in the background while I wait for you. And then you always ask me to repeat the question.

Sure, you can talk on the phone and drive at the same time. But you can’t do both effectively. Studies have shown that people who are yakking on the phone are as effective driving as someone who is legally drunk. Ninety-five percent of the near-accidents I’ve had on the bike involve people on the phone.

You need your brain to sort things out, divide them into categories, make choices and think. You are already doing this when driving or reading emails. Adding another task to it slows you down more than dial-up.

And you really aren’t paying attention to the emails, either. This week, I had to contact client X to confirm a seminar I am supposed to lead. I asked the client if we were still on for [name of seminar] on [date]. I got an answer that said, “I’m not on that committee anymore.”

Not only doesn’t that answer my question, it makes me write another email asking X for a new contact. Back comes the reply, with the name of the new committee head, Y.

Another email, asking the new committee head the same question, “X told me to contact you to confirm that I will be running [name of seminar] on [date]. ”

Back comes an email from new committee head Y. “This year’s seminar topic was set many months ago. If you’d like, you can pitch your idea to the head of the education committee.”

Y is normally a bright person. But I will bet Y was on the phone when she read my email. Because Y wasn’t paying attention, she didn’t answer the question. Not even close. And, while I’m complaining, the head of the education committee’s name wasn’t included.

Sigh. Off goes another email from me. “I’m confused. I’m not pitching a seminar, I’m checking the schedule to see if I’m running your seminar on [date].”

The answer? You’ll cringe. “I wasn’t the head of that committee. X was. You can contact her.”

yellow foam shoesPlease tell me we are not a nation of multitasking yakkers, schlumping around in big, poorly-fitting, brightly-colored foam shoes, on the phone and PDAs, not paying attention, and leaving a trail of destruction in our wake. Please tell me that you won’t multitask anymore, that you will stay in the moment and pay attention to your phone calls and then pay attention to your emails. Write your answers carefully. Check to make sure you answered ALL the questions in the email.

Still think you can multitask? OK. Sit down. Pick up your right foot about 6 inches from the ground. Rotate it clockwise. Comfy? Great. Now, using your right hand (even if you are left-handed), draw the number “6” in the air. Your foot turned the other way, didn’t it?  Hah! One thing at a time, please. It works better that way.

–Quinn McDonald has known the truth about multitasking for a long time. She speaks in complete sentences while on the phone because she isn’t doing anything else. If you call her and she doesn’t answer the phone, it’s because she’s in the car. See her work at Images: shoes, Computer/phone guy, (c) 2007. All rights reserved.