You have only three minutes to read this blog post…that is before the sound of incoming email, the ringtone of your mobile phone, a LinkedIn alert or an associate wanting to talk to you will distract you. Your attention will almost inevitably be absorbed by one of these distractions and you will find yourself engaged in a new task before you finish reading this article.
The three minutes mentioned above is not an arbitrary figure, rather the result of a study by Professor Gloria Mark at the Department of Informatics of the University of California, Irvine. Her research paper concludes, “People in the interrupted conditions experience a higher workload, increased stress, greater frustration and more time pressure.”
Interruptions in the workplace are growing exponentially, as a result of two key factors: information overload due to ubiquitous technology, and open offices. According to organizational psychologist Matthew Davis, while open offices may foster a symbolic sense of organizational mission and make employees feel more laid back, they promote uncontrolled interactions, higher stress levels and lower concentration and motivation.
In order to maintain an adequate level of productivity in the midst of so much distraction human beings have developed a coping mechanism known as multitasking. The advent of the first handheld digital devices fostered the notion that technology can help us to accomplish several tasks at once. Consequently, multitasking became a must-have skill and the hallmark of efficiency and productivity.
Recently, science has definitively debunked the multitasking myth. A 2009 study by Stanford University concluded that multitasking makes individuals less productive and prone to errors and stress. One by the University of London Research demonstrated that individuals who engage in multitasking experience a slowdown of activity and a drop of their IQ. A Harvard University paper by Dr. Teresa Amabile and her research team found that multitasking “May engender cognitive strategies that allow no time to think creatively. Rather than jolting people into producing creative insight, it may instead make that insight all the more elusive.”
Multitasking lowers efficiency and performance, as contrary to our belief, our brain can only focus on one task at a time. When we attempt to do two things at once, our brain inherently lacks the faculty to execute both tasks successfully. A 2011 McKinsey Quarterly article titled “Recovering from Information Overload” concluded, “Multitasking is a terrible coping mechanism. A body of scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that multitasking makes humans less productive, less creative and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective, we need to stop.”
Multitasking fittingly applies to financial advisers, who often embrace it to manage their busy practices. But, given its scientifically proven downsides, what is a viable alternative to maintain performance and productivity? The answer is: mindfulness.
Mindfulness teaches us the art of paying attention to our thinking, feelings and behavior in a non-judgmental manner. It empowers us to manage our thoughts and single out what is worth our immediate consideration among myriad of distractions. Mindfulness is a state of consciousness that prevents us from hyper-focusing on distractions. It helps us to pause and become more conscious of preconceived notions, motivations and preferences that hinder our ability to focus.
The practice of mindfulness can be highly rewarding for cultivating adviser-client relationships. By slowing down, being present and becoming mindful listeners advisers can attain an in-depth understanding of their clients’ true challenges and fears versus a perceived interpretation of the facts. Ultimately, this is an act of compassion that gives clients the tangible proof that they are being heard and that their problems are your first priority.
Mindfulness is much more than what I attempted to describe with a few words. However, I invite you to give mindfulness a try. Practice it to enhance your professional image, build enduring client relationships and grow your business, but most importantly to transform your relationship with yourself and make a difference in your life and those of your clients.
Claudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder