Sunday, June 26, 2005

Attention, multi-tasking, compartmentalizing

BlogHer buddy Renee Blodgett wrote a long, interesting post from Gnomedex on the subject of "attention."

She covers a lot of ground that I won't bother to try to recap, but the part that caught my attention, so to speak, was discussing how much we are asked to multi-task these days. And how it seems to reduce our ability to focus on really just be anywhere or with anyone.

I talk about this often.

There are two different aspects of this that I mull over, and one is simply that we have become a society with no down time. I have my cell, my mobile email device, my instant messaging, my always on internet connection...I think nothing of trying someone's three different phone numbers until I find them, and people do the same to me. Today is Sunday, and I have been sitting at my computer since about 7AM. Was some of it personal email and surfing? Yes. But I wove in a lot various and sundry business tasks.

The second thing I've come to realize is that the mental multi-tasking I do as a small business owner is quite different form the multi-tasking I did as Sr. Director of Product Marketing for a high tech company.

At the peak I had 6 direct reports managing 5 product lines. My involvement on those product lines ranged from still being the acting product manager on one legacy product line, to supporting a manager who took over a product line I had been watching since its infancy, to inheriting a couple of product lines about which I knew less and over which I exerted less direct control.

Our small department did both product management and product marketing. And we had no separate technical marketing or busdev resources, so we had a bit of that thrown in as well.

On any given day I had a task list that ran the gamut from tactical to strategic, from this technology to that, from customer-oriented to engineering-oriented.

And yet...

And yet, it never felt as mentally diverse as working as I do now does. While I might be working with different internal teams, at some point there were many people that also executed their functions across product lines. While I might be working with different groups/departments within a particular customer, at some point the market characteristics across all customers had much in common. Every task at some point was a part of a big picture that included every other task.

Did I often wish that management had clearer priorities, had more well-defined big-picture strategies themselves? Sure. But if they weren't going to step up and prioritize or strategize, I could carry on myself with my own company perspective guiding me.

But now...

But now I have clients with completely different, well, everything. Different tasks. Different markets. Different goals. One any given day I'm blogging about two different theatres, interviewing people and then blogging about health care, interviewing people and writing a case study for a local non-profit about College Accessibility programs, preparing a presentation about blogging, writing an article about being a vegetarian, checking out my search engine ad programs, planning a conference, writing web copy for a local alumni association, keeping on top of current events for my political blog and so on and so forth. Other than the fact that a large portion of what I do is writing, and that much of that writing is meant to be in some version of my own voice, there is little that ties all of these pursuits together. Each project requires a mental reboot. It's a different kind of mental exercise...and a harder one.

And as opposed to when I worked for my high tech company, there is now no feeling that I have "should" take a weekend or a free evening. I'm not working for "the man"'s for me. It seems like there are no more weekends.

So when I read Renee's lengthy post...and let's face it, I did what counts as reading these days...a skim and stop type of reading...the part I related to was her noticing that we no longer seem to be able to give full attention to things...we are so used to multi-tasking we no longer remember what it's like to focus on one thing.

The Blackberry is a triumph of marketing over substance. Now there is a real alternative. And one that does online appointment setting through your smart phone, contact management, email and you can work on your MS office documents too. diarypoint is new generation of mobile computing. It really is the 'office in your pocket'
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