Be like a postage stamp—stick to one thing until its delivered!”

This statement by Josh Billings (the pen name of 19th century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw) is truer today than ever!

Most of us are too familiar with the requirements for multitasking in the modern business climate. We all have 20 projects on our lists, along with a multitude of help requests and base management duties. Did you know that this multitude of activities is actually detrimental to good innovation practices? Did you know that recent studies show our minds are really only equipped for doing one or two activities while remaining productive? Both are true statements!

How does this extreme multitasking affect our innovation opportunities and projects? The downsides of too much multi-tasking include:

  • Late projects;
  • Failures;
  • Products that are late to market;
  • Loss of confidence; and, last but not least,
  • Stress.

Fortunately, there are two methods for counteracting this dilemma; one includes the practice of using a 1-2-3 list; another results from new research on how our brains work best. Both can help our innovation teams be much more successful.

The 1-2-3 list is a very simple discipline that’s rarely used. It includes a forced ranking of each teammate’s projects from one through 12, and teaching the discipline of only working on the top three each week. Why only 12? Well, with more it’s very hard to focus, and decide on the three most important. The top three must be agreed upon by assigners and assignees and have reasonable goals. If all business put this into practice, innovation productivity would soar! I’ve been using this as a management method for many years and I can tell you: It works.

The second remedy for the multitasking disease calls for using our brains’ natural networks more effectively. In a recent Harvard Business Review, they recap some new research on breakthrough innovation. The “default network” of your brain has been proven to never sleep. It kicks into gear when you are NOT focused on any task! We now know that our minds spend a great amount of time processing existing information and not just new information. This is, in effect, an “intermission” to our processes. To best utilize this network, companies like Google have instituted “Self-Days,” which allow engineers to work on anything they want. The key word and understanding of this network includes unplugging to allow our minds to work on those potential eureka moments.

I employ you to dig into these two methods and work to manage the multi-tasking epidemic that robs us of innovation. In the end, we’ll all benefit.

Keep innovating!

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