Multi-tasking – The Big Lie

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Multi-tasking – The Big Lie

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Linguists tell us that the word ‘priority’ came into the English language in the 1400’s. And at that time, there was no plural version…there was no such thing as “priorities”.

Only in the faster-paced world of the 1900’s did the word ‘priorities’ enter our lexicon, with the implication that we can do two or more things just as well -and at the same time.

But it’s a lie.

Neuroscience now tells us that it is neurologically impossible to concentrate on multiple tasks simultaneously, much-the-less do them all well.

So, what happens in reality is that the brain is forced to switch back and forth very quickly from one task to the next. And that there is a price for doing so.

Have you ever met a fine artist, musician, or master furniture maker who was juggling five different tasks at the same time?

I didn’t think so.

Multitasking forces the brain to pay a psychological toll every time it interrupts one task to focus attention on another task. Neuroscientists call this toll the “switching cost”, and it is paid in the denominations of stress and degraded outcomes.

An interesting study in the International Journal of Information Management found that the average person checks email once every five minutes, and that it takes 64 seconds on average to fully resume focus on the previous task.

Relate this truth to a dentist performing multiple hygiene checks while jumping between two active treatment rooms.

Easy disorientation…

Leading to more technical and judgement errors…

Leading to more unhappy patients,

And ultimately, to more and more stress.

It also means that we waste a lot of opportunities for right brain creative time, as switching forces us to stay in an analytical left brain mode.

And we wonder why we are less happy!

All this attempted multitasking didn’t hit the mainstream until the 1970’s, when computers -promising to simplify our lives – entered the workplace. Before that, no one claimed that they were “good multi-taskers”.

Today, people wear the term like a badge of honor. But its a rationalization, not reality. What it really means, is that they have a high stress tolerance and can get a lot of things done at a “good enough” level quickly.

Comprehensive, health-centered, relationship-based dentistry is complex. It takes uninterrupted focus, and extended right-brain functioning. Consequently, “switching cost” is the enemy. And “switching cost” is what high-volume multi-op insurance-centered dentistry is all about.

So we have a choice, to pursue the volume and the money, and accept the toll of distraction, stress, lower quality outcomes, and less happiness.

Or, we can pursue truly helping relationships with our patients, and enjoy our profession more while providing more and better care on fewer and more appreciative people.

The choice is ours to make.

Paul A. Henny, DDS

Thought Experiments LLC, Copyright 2017


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