Overcome Task Saturation with Fighter-Pilot Precision
Written by Renée Safrata - email@example.com, September 30th, 2010
Are scheduled meetings being canceled? Projects drifting away from completion? Team-building and strategic planning sessions put on hold?
If so, your organization could be suffering from task saturation.
The current business climate lends itself to leaders trying to get higher productivity out of leaner teams. This leads towards exhaustion for individuals who multi-task while striving for excellence. Task saturation is brought about by not having the time, tools, or resources to reach the finish line of any task.
Jim Murphy of Afterburner, Inc—an organization comprised of current and former fighter pilots—knows all about the dangers of task saturation:
“Task saturation has been a part of a fighter pilot’s life from day one. Pilots fly in the air at 750 miles per hour, manning 350 instruments while continually scanning the dash to keep the jet flying. By also listening to the radio calls coming in over their headset, watching the fuel state, keeping an eye on the weather, watching the engine and managing the fuel, pilots are able to make course adjustments should the enemy pop up.”
Pilots do not succumb to task saturation, because they are trained to recognize and deal with it. And you can too.
What does task saturation look like in your organization?
The will to Quit
“I’ve had it! It’s too much! I give up!” There’s just too much to do, too much going on despite superhuman efforts. These people shuffle around the office, start leaving early, and don’t pull their own weight within their team.
Pick a Compartment
Compartmentalizers are risky people. They act busy, but do little. They become obsessively linear, first-things-first, one project at a time–all while phones are ringing, customers are waiting, and pressures are rising. This is dangerous for the team because this person looks busy. No one knows a problem is building or that a weak link has entered the chain, until the chain breaks.
Which Channel are you focusing on?
Channelized attention is when you focus intensely on just one thing and ignore the rest. Channelizers are easy to spot, as they dismiss you with a flip of the wrist. They constantly defend their behaviour with “Can’t you see I’m busy?!” Channelizers are almost as damaging to a team as compartmentalizers, as they can get so absorbed in one thing, that all other project balls are dropped.
Pilots are able to identify when they are at risk of creating an error, because they’re aware of the personal coping mechanisms that lead to destructive behaviours. Then they can call in resources to get back on track.
Train your team like fighter pilots
- Hold a meeting to teach people about the dangers of task saturation. Describe the behavioural triggers of shutting down, compartmentalizing, and channelizing.
- Implement procedures to keep task saturation at bay: checklists, crosschecks, and accountability project partners. Use simple, understandable tools.
As task saturation decreases, execution errors also decrease—and performance increases! In these days of asking people to do more with less, task saturation doesn’t have to be a major threat to many business teams.
Are you or a member of your team experiencing task saturation? How have you dealt with it? I’d love to hear your comments.