Executive Dysfunction

As I write this entry I have several things vying for my attention. The evening news on in the background  (and the weatherman cheerily predicts 6 to 12 inches of snow on Monday – uhg!). Twitter is popping up every 45 seconds or so to let me know of distracted1another luminous log. And my Blackberry is dutifully vibrating towards the edge of the table with new emails.

My own fault you say? Why not shut those things down so I can concentrate? That’s a fair question, but like many of you (I suspect), I am compelled to be connected. I know the second I log off will be followed by the most important message, headline, question of my day.  So, like many of you (I suspect again), I am driven to distraction.

There is a clinical term for this – Executive Function Disorder (a.k.a. Executive Dysfunction). Executive functions are responsible for a variety of cognitive functions in mammals. There is evidence that attention deficit disorder is linked to faulty executive functions. [Insert punch line here.] 

So now I have a legitimate, clinically ratified excuse for feeling as though I can’t focus on one task for more than a few minutes. EFD has even been the focus of a recent article in Harvard Business Publishing, where Maggie Jackson, author of Dangers of Distraction, spoke about the pros and cons (mostly cons) of multitasking thusly,

“Multitasking is sold to us as the ultimate in efficiency: supposedly, it allows us to perform several tasks simultaneously. But multitasking is most oft en about “task-switching,” hopping back and forth among several tasks in quick succession, never giving deep, full attention to any of them. It’s characterized by frequent interruption, and that makes it highly inefficient. Each time we’re interrupted — or we interrupt ourselves — it takes time to get back to where we were on a project.”

Sound familiar?  So here is what I theorize, we are a nation of multi-taskers who are collectively suffering from an epidemic of Executive Dysnfunction. The condition becomes most dangerous when it effects our ability to allow reasonable time for reasonable results. Take our new President and the stimulus package for example. Barrack Obama has been president for 5 weeks. He inherited a hornets nest of problems many years in the making, some of the most serious ever faced by our nation, yet the chorus of critics have allowed him zero breathing room. Yes it’s politics as usual but I think it’s aided and abetted by EFD to the extent that even rational people are doubting every decision and exacerbating our shared national sink hole. 

My suggestion, let’s refocus our “get it done this second” state of mind on our own stuff and let the Chief Executive function for a while before jumping ship on his presidency.

We’ve seen Chief Executive Dysfunction – but not from this president yet.

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4 Responses

  1. So true. The question is whether EFD is symptomatic or causal. I think it has become a lovely excuse to not think. Because thinking is really hard. And the consequence of good thinking should be an idea that can stand the test of logical challenge, a bar which is far too high for most. So instead we play wackamole with our life while spewing ill-thought sound bite solutions to complex problems that require time, risk, and someone to suffer, to solve: criteria that our society and democratic system just cannot seem to accept.

  2. Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google your post looks very interesting for me. I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  3. Great article Brian. Thanks for that. I will be referring clients to this as its very pertinent to many. I have had a few ADD clients and I ask them as an exercise to do things from A-Z without jumping around. If need be to write something down but not to get up and do something as you have just thought of it and leave what you are doing.

  4. Where will we be in 10 years? 20 years?

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