Stuck in the Flood Mini-Series

Part 5: A Fetish for Output

This is the part of the Stuck in the flood mini-series that prompted one c-suite leader to tell me

“I forwarded this email to every single one of my direct reports. Is there a link I can give them to share with their teams?” 

I turned it into an article, and you, too, can get the link toward the end of this article.

Let’s dig in. 

Most of us are steeped in the belief that being a high performer means doing more, all at once. 

That mindset leads us to erroneously believe that while some people need focus to work, those of us who are really winning can multitask our way through. I have seen this belief manifest time and time again when I have worked with leaders across sectors.

Being labeled as a great multitasker can feel like getting a badge of honor.

If you relate to feeling that way, there is no shame in admitting that you have this mindset. In fact, realizing that you are influenced by this mindset is an important first step in seeing the flood of organizational multitasking.

In 2018, researchers at the University of Michigan gave test subjects a list of tasks to complete and varied whether multitasking was required to complete them. They found that those who were asked to multitask perceived the tasks as more important than those who were not told to multitask. 

In some cases, multitasking participants outperformed the single-task participants—not because they were working faster, but because the perception that the work required multitasking meant it was more important, thus enabling a short-term burst of energy.

Our collective Western society attaches great value to being busy, and we conflate being busy with being important. Our culture tells us that productivity is about how much we do. But there’s a big difference between output—the quantity of the work—and outcome—the results of the work. 

Side note: Are you emphatically nodding your head at this point? I have a lot more to say on the problem with outputs right here. This is the link to the article I wrote for that CEO.

If you are here, reading this letter, I have zero doubt that you value being a great leader. 

I’m sure you’ve read many leadership books, attended conferences, and invested in your own leadership development. That you care deeply about leading well. 

However, the cognitive illusions and organizational culture that get us into the flood of multitasking are powerful. 

Whether you embrace it or not, you are steeped in a productivity culture that has a fetish for output.

That fetish is getting in your way of better performance.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the consequences of staying in the flood. 

Take care,


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