A conversation recently had people asking:
- Is it really possible to ‘multi-task’? (Is there truly such a thing?)
- If possible, what does one do to most effectively ‘multi-task’?
If one is to be technically correct here, there is no such thing as multi-tasking. (There. I said it). I’m writing this article, and I’m not doing anything else. I can suspend my writing and take a phone call; maybe I can even nod my head, say “yes” and “no” and continue to type, but my focus is compromised and my efficiency declines on one or both endeavors. I might even have to go back and re-do something due to this compromise. In this case, my split-attention doesn’t yield the machination of two tasks at once (‘multi-tasking’): It really yields a hybrid, composite, task; one that may deliver quality to two component parts – or – as I said, one that may yield poor results, and a do-over.
‘Multi-tasking’ in my mind really means handling several things on a schedule – whether formal or informal. Hence, you can be prioritizing something first thing in the morning – perhaps you’re focusing on a specific project’s milestones (and again, you have to look at them in-turn, or as a composite), when something hits your desk, or you get a “hot” phone call regarding something needing attention. What do you do?
You either suspend a lower-priority item (in relation to the “hot” thing), or you can delegate the work. Delegation is always going on in the management realm, and even if you’re someone who can’t delegate (perhaps a HelpDesk person, with a priority task you’re working on), you can still negotiate with a co-worker to help you. Therefore, you are in essence “juggling” multiple tasks.
The trick is to delegate and negotiate help without incurring a “back-and-forth” focus that bleeds quality attention to anything you’re working on. Learn how to offload and to then relax a bit – trust your personnel, and trust that the delegated work will get handled. (If you don’t believe you can do that, there are liabilities on the team, obviously).
The alternative is to think you’re doing two things at once while you compromise your attention to details (ever had to ask someone to repeat something three times on the phone, because you’re administering e-mail at the same time [reading, answering, deleting, etc.?].
Remember that the goal of so-called ‘multi-tasking’ is to gain time, by stuffing more tasks into an allotment of time. But frequently, a blur of focus causes errors, “re-do’s,” and the loss of time.
So – how do we give the appearance of multi-tasking; that is, of being efficient while handling lots of items? We’ll look at that next…
NP: Heavy Cream (a best-of compilation; Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton): 8-track on a nice high-end Pioneer deck.