Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Switchtasking into 2013: confessions of an association professional

Well, 2012 has wrapped up. Over the last 12 months, I’ve posted 264 blogs!

The crazy thing; however, is I that have 51 partly done blogs sitting in my computer!

Most productivity experts would call me unfocused, unable to finish tasks.

The December issue of Associations Now featured a short piece from Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE, titled Switch Off. 

Reading it, I discovered that I am a “switchtasker” ... someone who rapidly alternates between tasks.

Despite sitting in on a dozen or more productivity and/or time management seminars, I am who I am. I sometimes think I’m ADD (attention deficit disorder) but then that term did not exist when I was growing up.

Some signs:
  • I’m a piler not a filer. Which makes me a messy desk guy.
  • Before the arrival of the iPhone, my old Blackberry made me an original “crackberry.” 
  • I have two Twitter handles ... and 14 columns up on TweetDeck plus 6 on HootSuite.
  • As I write this, I have 20 windows open on my computer. I love the “Alt Tab feature” that allows me to switch back and forth between programs, folders, documents and social media. 

Part of my problem is when an idea hits, I need to write it down or I forget it. That leads me away from the current documents to a new screen and document. Sometimes, I forget to come back to finish the original piece. So, it sits unfinished in my blog folder.

Maybe I’m not ADD but just a product of my early experiences ... or, perhaps I was good at them because I am partially ADD?
  • I played ice hockey on a farm pond and “graduated” to Ohio State’s first varsity hockey team. If you don’t know, hockey is fast. You can’t control the puck as much as a basketball. You don’t stop after each play (as in football) or each pitch (as in baseball). You can only play about 50 seconds at a time (if you are really skating) and that often means “changing on the fly” which is when you go to the bench and your replacement gets on the ice whether or not play has stopped. While hockey has basic concepts for play, there are no set plays because you’re always reacting to the puck and the other 11 players on the ice.
  • My first job out of college was as a news reporter for The Associated Press. As a news person, your next task could change with one phone call. I spent some of my initial two years as the “night broadcast desk” editor. That meant converting the “print stories” into “broadcast stories” (shorter, punchier) and getting them “on the wire” fast. Sometimes, you must write a story in 5 minutes or less. I had to have the “evening news summary” (from the day’s events) up on the wire 20 minutes after arriving.
  • For the last 19 years of my career, I owned an Association Management Company with 10 association clients. That’s 10 boards of directors and as many as 48 board and committee meetings a year. With that many board and committee members (and staff), trying to plan a day was like being a short-order cook in a local diner. Back in 2005, one call from one of FedEx’s agency – approved FedEx sponsorship of the Trees for Troops program – changed not only my day but also my Decembers for the next six years!
Despite all the “time management” classes I’ve attended, I am who I am. My habits, personality and work environment make it difficult for me to change.

Years ago, I listened as Art Ciervo of Penn State gave a presentation at a seminar for college public relations professionals. He was asked about “motivating staff.” 

I’ve never forgotten his response ... “the world is filled with three kinds of people: (1) wills, (2) won’ts and (3) can’ts. The wills try everything and are usually successful. The won’ts oppose everything and are barriers to progress. The can’ts try but are rarely successful.” Art added that supervisors spend two or three more time trying to change the won’ts and can’ts – usually without success. The real solution is to recognize that the won’ts and can’ts are in the wrong job and to terminate them.

As harsh as it sounds, Art’s philosophy offered a lot of truth over 30 years of people management.
It is extremely difficult to change people. You can provide the right type of environment for them to succeed but you can’t make them change. 

Starting next month, I’m hoping to finish those 51 posts ... but, who knows, I may come up with better ones and they’ll remain unfinished. After all, I am who I am.

If you are a piler like me, you know what I’m going through. If you are a “clean desker,” you have no understanding of our work style! And, if you are a clean desk boss, you probably will spend a lot of professional development budget trying to get us to change. Good luck with that!

Have a great 2013!


  1. Yep--I'm a piler too, and a switchtasker--and have ADHD. I try to make the best of it and, as you have done, find opportunities that take advantage of those tendencies instead of try to change them. The good news is that more and more jobs are requiring switchtaskers, especially in the digital space.

  2. Well, let's hope you are right about more jobs opening that need switchtaskers! I found it helpful in my career both in public relations and association management!

    Thanks for your comments Maggie!

  3. Those Penn Staters are always full of good advice. But you knew that.

    That's why we depend on "switchtaskers" to keep us "clean-deskers" in line (and stop us from wasting time).

    Thanks for the good thoughts and advice. Keep us thinking . . .

  4. Thanks Bob. Not sure about the PSU folks but Art was a great one! Good to hear from you.

  5. Steve, I have a pile of unfinished blog post drafts too—but I view that as a good thing. For most writers it's a myth that the best way to work is to bang out one post at a time before going on to the next one. (Journalists on deadline are an exception rather than the rule.)

    Writers like you and me have a lot of ideas and we often need to let them sit and germinate in our minds for a while before they become fully formed. My pile of unfinished drafts is a wonderful place for ideas to sit, and I frequently return to it for inspiration. A mentor of mine compares this pile to the pile of rocks you need to amass before you can begin to successfully build a stone wall.

    So, I recommend you see your pile as a natural resource and rejoice it's there. Rather than fret over not finishing everything that comes to mind, I'd start worrying if my pile was empty.

  6. Thanks Adrian!

    I agree that having a "pile of ideas" is the better option. In a sense, I'm fussing about "efficiency gurus" who tell us that we would be more productive if we complete one task (such as reading an email or position paper) and act on it before going to the next task.

    Given my switchtasking style, that just doesn't work.

    I'm glad to know that you have a pile of unfinished drafts too!


  7. One task at a time? How boring! I'm glad to see I'm in good company here. I can focus when I need to but, like you, I'm curious and love exploring. Happy New Year, Steve!

    1. Thanks Diedre!

      Happy New Year back at you!