The NSCA BLC (Business & Leadership Conference) richly deserves its reputation as the premier thought-leadership conference for integration business owners. As I write these words, just 24 hours removed from the 25th iteration of BLC, my mind is aswirl with ideas. I look forward to sharing the revelatory wisdom, economic analysis, leadership best practices and culture-transformation insights that I gleaned. But I want to start with keynote speaker Dave Crenshaw, whose presentation was most eye opening. Indeed, his talk, “Find Focus in a World Full of Chaos,” will likely change many attendees’ daily workflow — including my own. The author of The Myth of Multitasking, Crenshaw debunked the idea that humans are built to do everything simultaneously.
NSCA BLC Lesson: ‘Multitasking’ is ‘Switch-Tasking’
The word “multitasking” is ubiquitous in our society — from job postings to company statements of how team members operate. However, Crenshaw reminded BLC 2023 attendees that rapidly switching between tasks is the least-efficient way to approach work. Indeed, he illustrated this with an exercise. First, he asked everyone to write a sentence, and then to write the numbers “1” through “27,” on a sheet of paper. Next, he asked us to alternate between tasks, writing one letter, then one number, then another letter, etc. In my own case, 31 seconds ballooned to 62 seconds — literally double the time! — when I had to switch between letters and numbers. This, Crenshaw said, illustrates the time we waste when we “switch-task” between work duties.
In fact, Crenshaw said, “switch-tasking” doesn’t merely add time but also decreases work quality and induces stress. You probably see this in your everyday life: You’re working on a report; then, an email pops up in the lower corner of your screen, which you feel you must respond to immediately; next, your direct report Teams messages you with a “quick question”; then, you get an Outlook reminder about a Zoom call in 15 minutes. All this, Crenshaw said, results in the average person losing 28% of their day to “switching costs.” That term refers to the interruptions that plague us and our inability to recover from them instantly.
Top Four ‘Switch-Busters’
A fan of “Mythbusters,” Crenshaw offered BLC attendees some “switch-busters” to reclaim our time and focus. First, he suggested that we identify our top two Most Valuable Activities (MVAs) — our tasks that deliver the most value. Then, we should build dedicated blocks of time into our calendar when we focus only on those MVAs. Second, he urged us to abandon “the culture of now” in favor of “the culture of when.” The most important question in our arsenal, he averred, is “Can this wait?” That means communicating to your team when you will be available to answer “quick questions.” It means committing to answering every email when you’ve set aside time to do so. Without those boundaries, “the culture of now” becomes the default.
Third, Crenshaw reminded us that humans perform best when we take a break every 90 to 120 minutes. Indeed, he referred to this as an “Oasis,” describing it as a resetting of the biological clock. Even viewing a YouTube video for five minutes can pull us from the chest-tightening frenzy of switch-tasking. Finally, Crenshaw urged BLC attendees to focus on the people in our lives. When we switch-task on people — for example, looking at our phone while someone is speaking to us — it conveys a clear message: You are unimportant. We must make it normal to give people our full attention, he concluded.
My informal conversations at NSCA BLC indicate that these insights were revelatory for many leaders in attendance. I know they were for me. I hope this visionary message — the kind of thought leadership you can only get at BLC — empowers you to run your business better by organizing your workflow more coherently.
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