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Multi-task Much? Here's a Tip

Updated on October 8, 2015
Kathy Stutzman profile image

Kathy Stutzman has a passion for creating meaningful connections. Author, facilitator, leadership coach, public speaker, workshop trainer.

What Hat Are You Wearing Today?

I am sure you have often heard the phase “Let me put this hat on”, or, “which hat are you wearing today?” As an uber-multi-tasker and a person who relies on concrete roles and responsibilities to guide me in understanding which hat I am supposed to be wearing at any particular time, I am continually asking myself which hat I am wearing. In any one day,

I may have to take on the role of marketer, social justice fighter, mom, secretary, chauffeur, chef, referee, explorer, writer and magician; sometimes all in the same conversation. As a result I have developed a strategy to help me through these sometimes mind-bending experiences to stay focused on each of the tasks at hand.

What hats are in your collection?

A small collection of the hats I use to take on a variety of roles to complete tasks...can you figure out which hat goes with what?
A small collection of the hats I use to take on a variety of roles to complete tasks...can you figure out which hat goes with what? | Source

Transitioning Between Tasks Takes Time Away

Recently, I took a Bill O’Hanlon Course designed to help the participants use their time more effectively and I picked up so many wonderful strategies that helped me get really focused. During the course we were presented with research that demonstrated how much time we lose when we multi-task as our brains have to transition between differing processes – something happens to the neurons and it takes a lot of energy and focus away during the shift.

Obviously, this was presented in a more formal and scientific manner, and the research is pretty widely distributed, so I am certain that you can find the studies and research I am referencing. The net result of that particular class for me was to develop a strategy that would allow my brain to transition, or to “de-role” more seamlessly and not waste so much time in transition.

Actors are familiar with de-roleing as are most therapists and artists. It is a process by which you allow yourself to be immersed in something, playing a character, writing a novel, hypnotism, visualization, or play-acting; any time you step into a specific character or role and then have to “come back” and be you. Sales people are especially great at “show-time” and then can take that hat off when they go home or interact with their friends and family. As a role is shed, the hat is taken off or the project needs to be put on the shelf, de-roleing takes place. And as that process takes place, our brains shift to move to focus on the next role, the next project, the next task.

The hat helps you take on a specific role

Kathy Stutzman facilitating in Ghana on "local dress day". Wearing the appropriate hat creates bonds
Kathy Stutzman facilitating in Ghana on "local dress day". Wearing the appropriate hat creates bonds

Return to a Calm State of Mind

I needed that process to take place much quicker than it was taking because I have several projects or work tasks that I have to do that I really don’t like to do and the less time I have to spend in that particular “head-space” the better. In fact, I have one project that I have to do weekly that requires me to be very assertive, on the verge of aggressive, just to get anything competed and while I can go there because it is necessary, I really don’t like having to wear that particular hat and want to be done with it as soon as possible.

When systems are set up to create an adversarial experience, it drives me crazy, and the medical insurance billing system is an example of one that I have to engage with on a regular basis. One day a week I do medical insurance billings and many of the insurance companies apparently built their computer response systems to mirror that of a John Grisham novel. Remember the novel that was made into a movie where the insurance company kept sending out deny, deny, deny letters as a matter of practice, even though the particular claim was a valid claim?

This particular system typically only responds to aggressive action and terse strong words which for me are very stressful, time-consuming and violate my inner peace. I also don’t like having to be that way, I can be and have had more than a few people suggest I go to law school, but I just don’t like that I have to go there for the right thing to happen.

Yet, weekly I run into at least one issue or problem that requires me to put on my “nasty hat” and get my job done. And once I have had to ask for a supervisor, or explain the rules for the 15th time, or get told something completely different than the last 8 people told me about the same claim, my heart starts to race, my head is pounding and I want to take someone’s head off. But knowing that the insurance companies keep transcripts and recordings of each conversation, I am usually restrained and find myself holding back, with my tone and voice asserting the facts and the correct course of action. But it still takes its toll and once I am seeing red, it takes about 20 minutes to calm down and be able to think clearly. Those 20 minutes were wasted time and I needed to transition my brain quicker and de-role form the nasty state to my more usually calm albeit passionate disposition.

How do you de-role?

What is your preferred way of calming down after a difficult customer or situation?

See results

Ready to make some magic

My magic hat is just waiting for NaNoWriMo
My magic hat is just waiting for NaNoWriMo | Source

Put On Your Thinking Hat

In an effort to make that shift in my brain happen more rapidly, I developed a strategy that has worked very well for me and I plan to use it for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). While literal, it works. I wear a hat that signifies the role I am playing and when I take off the hat, the role goes with it. So on Fridays or Mondays when I am going insurance billing I wear my assertive hat with humor for the situation; my hat for nasty work is my Survivor ball cap with the slogan “Outwit, Outplay and Outlast” which is exactly what I am doing when dealing with the various insurance companies. It actually makes it a little more fun to be thinking about outwitting the clerks, outplaying the system and outlasting the 2 hours phone conversations – I can do it! I can survive the worst job I have to do and I can not only have a little fun with it, when I take off that hat – I am done with it – my heart does not have to calm down, my head does not pound and I can more rapidly go to Yoga, or write an article, or facilitate a group. De-rolling is as simple as taking off my Survivor hat.

Likewise, I have a hat that I wear when I am writing. I have an open office with no doors and it is super easy for people to walk in and out creating huge distractions when I am writing or thinking or percolating. While I am putting a story together I may appear to be staring outside or reading or playing with paperclips, when in actually I am in the process of outlining, character development or exploring a plot line. Now when I am wearing my magicians hat that I got in Paris at Disneyland Paris, it is obvious to everyone, including myself that I am making magic and am not to be disturbed. And when I am wearing my warriors’ hat – EVERYONE leaves me alone.

I have had a lot of fun playing around with different hats and wearing them at odd occasions or to spur a conversation. I have also found them useful when needing to shake up my thought process a little, kind of like “putting on my thinking hat”. The strategy of putting hats on as a demonstration of the actual role I am playing has been very helpful for me as I transition between roles, projects and various tasks. Try it and let me know how it works for you. And I would love to hear what strategies you have developed to both have fun with and to efficiently multi-task

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