Beware Task Saturation

Jim Murphy, fighter plane pilot turned business consultant and author, writes about the dangers of task saturation.

Task saturation comes from not having enough time, tools and resources to get your mission accomplished. Essentially, it means you are overworked. Unfortunately, most people and companies wear task saturation like a badge of honor. Perhaps it makes them feel wanted or valuable.

What fighter pilots know about task saturation should worry every business manager and safety manager. As task saturation increases, performance decreases and execution errors increase. Task saturation is a silent killer, and in these days of layoffs and asking people to do more with less, task saturation is a major threat to corporate America. Rather than wear it like a badge of honor, businesses need to deal with it now. The correct action to take is to acknowledge that it exists, acknowledge that it creates problems, identify the symptoms, and then work to eliminate it.

Jim talks about three coping mechanisms:

  1. Shutting Down … Stop doing anything. Quit. Give up.
  2. Compartmentalize … Hide overload through busy-work. Constantly spend time making lists of things to do, rather than getting on and doing them.
  3. Channelize … Choose one thing to do and ignore everything else.

As a father of seven children, a husband to a wonderful lady, an executive at a start-up, the owner of a house with grounds that need care and attention, a blogger, and a reader, I “suffer” from task saturation. There is more to do that there is time to do … there always has been, and there always will be. Here’s my general strategy:

  • I have found David Allen’s ideas very helpful to dealing with task saturation, specifically writing down everything that I’m committed to doing. When I can be disciplined with that, things work a lot better.
  • As an extension to David’s ideas, I find that I’m much better at dealing with all of my stuff when I have a single list on a 3×5 card of the jobs/tasks for the day, along with a sense of priority for each item. I make the writing out of this card one of the first things I do each day.
  • I’m trying to learn to stay focused on the task at hand, and not continuously scan for “new” and “more interesting” things to do.
  • Finally, when I’ve put in a good days worth of work, I leave my 3×5 card with unfinished items on the desk, and review it again the next day when making out a new card. Sometimes things get transferred across; other times they get put back on my master task list.

How do you handle task saturation?

Source: Occupational Hazards
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