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Are you a multi-tasking, fast-forwarding zombie?

By Shyamal Majumdar
Last updated on: June 11, 2010 16:12 IST
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Check out your score fast, as working smart and hard does not mean you have to keep a 60 miles per hour life, writes Shyamal Majumdar.

It is 3 in the afternoon. You are on a long-distance call while checking your emails, surfing channels and taking a reluctant bite of the sandwich which has got cold as you just didn't have enough time in between those daily meetings.

Sounds familiar? There are countless executives like you who think a 60 - make that 80 - miles per hour life is the way to go.

But psychologists have a term for this 24x7 existence - "hurry sickness", a state of being where a person feels chronically short of time and so tends to perform every task faster and, in turn, gets flustered when encountered with any kind of delay.

Such people move like a launched missile throughout the working day (usually they come in much ahead of others and leave much later than others) in the hope that the boss would be mighty impressed with their permanent state of busyness.

The flip side, however, is that these people may be mixing up business with busyness and confusing working smart with working long and fast. HR consultants say what these busy bees need to understand is that while the nose to the grindstone may be a necessary posture for furthering their career, there is much more to life that can be seen from this posture.

Psychologists say hurry sickness is more than just feeling rushed and getting immersed in the worry-go-round of the corporate rat race. Persons suffering from this disease often don't realise that speed and extra long hours just can't be sustained for a long period of time. Even if they can, their work quality is bound to suffer as they become nothing but glorified robots.

Remember the movie Modern Times where Charlie Chaplin stands at an assembly line in a factory, and for eight hours a day tightens a nut with his wrench as each piece goes by. From time to time, the boss increases the pace of the conveyor belt, and Chaplin has to work even faster.

Throughout the day, he makes the same movement with his arm. When he comes out after eight hours, he just can't stop. Though he has no wrench, he makes the same gesture all the way home, to the amusement of the passers-by.

This is what happens to people who are always in a terrible hurry at their workplace. Beyond a point, they stop thinking and react exactly like Chaplin did on his way home. These people constantly hurry, hoping thereby to be more efficient.

But this may boomerang as something urgent, some kind of emergency is always happening for them, and they are so over-taxed that they become incapable of responding to a genuine emergency when it arrives.

In their delightful book, The 80-minute MBA (Hachette India; special introductory offer Rs 149), authors Richard Reeves and John Knell say successful leadership takes time for knowing yourself and colleagues, to make good hiring and firing decisions etc. But, time feels like the scarcest resource of all for people who are always in a rush.

The 80-minute MBA, which can be termed as your reduced Shakespeare for business, has prescribed a quick Hurry Sickness Test, which has been adapted from James Gleick's famous book titled Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything.

Here is a summary:

  • When you brush your teeth in the morning, are you always doing something else at the same time - finding underwear, choosing a pair of shorts, yelling at the kids?
  • When you catch a train or a plane - jumping on a moment before the doors close - do you secretly get a kick out of it?
  • When you get into a lift, do you immediately look for the "door-close" button? You may be ignoring the fact that the door closes automatically in four seconds. It must be unimaginable for you to wait that long, isn't it?
  • How many times do you press the lift button just because it's taking time to come down from the 16 th floor? Some of you, in fact, keep on banging it as if this action will speed up the arrival of the lift.

Now, count how many questions you answered "yes" to. If the score is 2 (anything less than that means you are extremely laid back), you are in charge of your time. If it's 3, it's an early symptom of hurry sickness. And if it's 4, you must be chasing your own tail most of the day, which means advanced stages of the disease.

Medical world has a term for this: fibrillation. When your heart begins fibrillation (a rapid beating), the blood is blocked rather than pumped through it.

Psychologists say this is not to suggest that you should slow down to an extent that you can't move quickly even when the occasion requires. You don't need to dawdle along, listening to your thoughts when your job demands a good, brisk walk.

But the other extreme can't be what Gleick calls a multi-tasking, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding zombie. In short, don't bang the lift button; it will only stop working.

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Shyamal Majumdar
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