Sleeping with Eyes Wide Open

Recently, our son who is four, appealed to my wife and I that he deserved to go to bed later than his older sister because he took a nap during the afternoon.  The problem was that he, in fact, did not nap.  But he argued to the contrary.  Finally, after proving beyond all reasonable doubt that he had played in his room instead of napping, he paused for one final volley:

But Daddy, he said as convincingly as he could muster, I took a nap with my eyes wide open.

Of course!  The original multi-tasking exercise.  Stay awake and sleep all at the same time!

The really fun piece of this exchange was the fact that he said his line with such passion that I feel sure he had convinced himself of its truth.

I started thinking about all the ways in which we fool ourselves (most of the time subconsciously) into believing that we can multi-task, get more accomplished, and do it all with distinction.

We regularly swallow the marketing hook that every piece of technology sitting on the store shelf will “make our lives easier.”  The problem, of course, is that we’re all so distracted by the technology that we forget to ask if our lives are, in fact, getting easier.  And we really forget to ask if we are being any more effective!

So, here are 3 suggestions for you and your advancement team which embrace the idea that focus (and not multi-tasking) is the road to success:

  1. Cell-phone free meetings.  If you lead an advancement team or have the ability to make a suggestion, this is one you should consider.  All cell phones are shut down and do not come out of a purse, pocket, or other hidden spot.  I’m not anti-cell phone.  I do most of my business on a smart phone.  However, in meetings, their use signals that you’d rather be elsewhere.  And texting during a meeting is unfortunate at best.  It shows a complete lack of respect for the other people gathered.  We don’t listen when we are focused on our phones and, even if we suggest that we can listen and surf the internet simultaneously, it is perceived that we are not listening.  Put the phones away and focus on the meeting.
  2. Create e-mail only zones.  Each day, build your schedule so that you have set times (as an example:  early morning, before lunch, after lunch, 1/2 hour before you leave) to send and respond to e-mail.  E-mail is the great multi-tasking demon.  You sit with your laptop attempting to create the draft agenda for the retreat of the Development Committee of your Board and you are sucked away from that important work because your computer alerts you that you now have mail.  A quick peek at the message turns into 20 minutes of wordsmithing an email to a donor who hasn’t given in 4 years.  Turn it off.  Don’t be reactive.  Be proactive!  Create your own email schedule.  And stick to it.
  3. Use written agendas for meetings.  Without them, too much “other stuff” comes into the discussion.  The key to keeping meetings meaningful, focused, and short starts with a written agenda.  Another plus – creating a written agenda forces us to think about the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting.  Start the meeting by distributing and reviewing the agenda.  If conversation veers away from the agenda, it should be continued at a time convenient to the interested individuals.  When I hear an advancement team agree that “meetings are a waste of time,” I almost always find that there is not a culture of written agendas.

Everyday we rationalize our multi-tasking decisions as being more productive.  The truth is that we may be busy, but we probably aren’t being as successful or effective as we could be.

By focusing on the task at hand instead of multi-tasking, we give ourselves more of an opportunity for success.  You see, only my son can “sleep with his eyes wide open.”


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