Lots has been written about the downside of multitasking. And research shows that when it comes to tasks, at least amongst pre-millennial generations, it doesn’t work. Working on more than one thing at a time, e.g. talking on the phone and filling out a form or writing a paper, doesn’t work. It actually takes longer to get both tasks done when we multitask because our attention is divided.

And yet as leaders, we must pay attention to both the content, and the context of each situation. Isn’t this a form of multitasking?

I was discussing this with a friend recently and he had the following commentary, “My view is that we don’t really multitask but hold vertical subject or action silos in our heads, and each time we get an update for that silo we mentally log it in, decide if it’s critical or not and then process the next data segment for another silo.”

For me this was an ‘ah-ha’. As leaders, we must do this type of multitasking. Information flows in throughout the day. Vertical silos help us determine how to separate the urgent from the non-urgent and the important from the unimportant. And, if we hold both content and context in a silo, we can remind ourselves when we must pause and address the context before we can make further progress on the content.

An example that comes to mind for me is leading a meeting, something we leaders do frequently and sometimes without thinking. In meetings, there are at least 3 vertical silos we must monitor throughout the session:

  • Most of us focus primarily on the content silo. We prepare agendas, prepare materials, ask for participation, assign tasks, etc. etc.
  • But what about the context silo? Is everyone present, fully present? What else may be going on in the lives of the people present that distracts their attention? How are people feeling about the subject matter and the time given for discussion? Are they feeling that they are being heard? I recently led a session where we gave an assignment and when we stopped the work at the end of the allotted time, the participants were visibly angry. Clearly we had not given them enough time. I wish context was so easy to read all the time. Most of the time it is subtle and if we don’t have that silo in mind, we miss the cues.
  • And what about the environment? Have you created an environment that makes the participants feel comfortable? Are the chairs comfortable; what about the temperature and ventilation? If an all-day meeting, or even a half-day, is there nutritious food so people stay focused? Or are you serving all sugar (e.g. fruit and bread products only) creating highs and lows and inadvertently impacting attention?

So, as you go through each day, I encourage you to think about your silos and ask yourself, are you logging into each of them appropriately?


Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

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