Multitasking in Today’s World

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I am extremely impressed by anyone who can multitask. My resume for the last several years states that I can multitask, which is a true statement, but not to the level I’ve seen in others.

Multitasking has always been something that I associated with the working world, something done in employment and typically in an administrative role. The reason I see it that way is because I don’t hear a lot of people talking about multitasking when they speak of their every-day life or being at home or outside of work.  

That said, I realize multitasking can be seen in several areas of life. For instance, if I am baking a cake, I can measure ingredients, mix them as instructed, set up the oven, clean the utensils while I wait, and have the tv on in the background.

But that’s not multitasking is it.

That is taking advantage of those moment when I’m doing nothing but waiting for the next step. I’m not going to stand around in the kitchen waiting for the cake to rise.

To a small degree you could say it’s multitasking but it’s really just doing multiple things in an allotted amount of time. I’m not literally doing them at the same time or in such a way to confuse the process.  

Moving on to the example of administrative jobs. The reason I put multitasking on my resume is because I can switch gears and move to another task easily. I do not need to finish one task before working on another.

Some people have a hard time with that because they have the need or desire to finish what they are working on before doing anything else. This type of person may find it difficult to work in an environment where there are several duties to achieve in a day and might not be considered a multitasker.

During moments when I became overwhelmed with the quantity of work or the differences between the task, I would sometimes stop what I was doing and briefly walk away. If I could refocus and acknowledge that I can and will achieve as much as possible, then that time away from my desk wasn’t very long.

There have been moments when it was just too much and I needed more than a ten-minute breather. Maybe that’s the day to take an hour-long lunch or a walk around the building. Getting away from the source can often lead to new ideas and a necessary distraction.

In my last place of employment, there were some people who could work on the computer while also having their phone propped up playing a tv show. They could ‘sort of watch’ the program while doing their work. Now I often wondered just how well they did their job while listening to and watching something unrelated, but they seemed to do alright. In other words, they weren’t fired for poor workmanship.

I will say this, when any of them needed to truly focus on a project or deal with a very delicate situation, they turned off other distractions.

Were they truly able to multitask or were they just able to have other sensory input without disrupting their work process?

When I wanted to get a lot done in a day and focus deeply into something like data entry, I would put an earbud in and play rock music. It did not distract at all; it actually helped me focus. It jacked me up, pumped me up, got me working harder and faster and often better. 

But if I needed to actually think about what I was doing, distractions were eliminated.

Again, this is not considered multitasking at all because the act of working and listening to music does not compete with each other (usually). Perhaps those watching a tv show and working feel the same way or perhaps they are not actually watching but instead just casually listening.

I remember one person in particular who could have a personal conversation on the phone while also focusing on their computer work. There is no way I can ever do that! What ends up happening is that either I have no idea what the person said, or I just typed what they said onto the computer screen.

I would have loved to have been able to quiz that person to determine just how much they remembered of the call vs. how much quality work they got done.

So the question is, can a person truly multitask? Can you do two things at the same time?

In order to truly multitask a person would need more than two hands and probably another set of eyes. When working on things that require the same type of attention, it’s impossible to do more than one and give the task your full attention.

Perhaps we have changed the definition of multitasking to simply doing several chores or duties in the same day. You still don’t do them at the same time.

I can already hear the people saying ‘ya but’ and perhaps they would be right. A person can eat and watch tv at the same time but again, those two things do not compete. You do not need to hold the tv in order to watch it and you do not need to watch or listen to your sandwich.  

Can you eat your meal and clean the toilet at the same time? No, no you cannot. Now I suppose there’s some smart ass out there who will say they most certainly can that but there’s a difference between saying ‘challenge accepted’ and sticking a bite of sandwich in your mouth while scrubbing the toilet, and actually doing it on a regular basis.

If you can work on five things throughout the day and get them all done adequately and on time, that’s called good self-management.

Okay, so yes, you are doing multiple tasks in a day, that is true and it’s also why people say they are good at multitasking. But that’s true of a many people in many situations; it’s called living your life.

Let me give you my definition in the administrative world. Multitasking means that you can do several types of tasks or duties within a given time frame with the added ability to jump from one to the other whenever necessary and not lose your further ability to go back to the previous task without missing a beat.

That is as close to real multitasking I believe a person can achieve before things get messed up. Each person has a threshold of abilities. One might be able to finish five separate tasks in a day switching back and forth. Another person may need to focus on one task at a time with a possible break before going on to the next.

Yet another person might be able to get ten tasks done while talking on the phone to their friend in another country, texting someone else and watching the latest episode of their favorite show.

The real question in the end is centered around quality of work, deadlines met, and how long the person will last in that position before they can’t do anymore. Stretching beyond a person’s capacity before breakdown is another subject for another day.

I believe if we use the definition of multitasking, I gave earlier from an administrative standpoint, there are many people who can achieve this skill. If we use the definition wherein a person literally does more than one thing within the same category at the exact same time, that is not plausible.

And there you have it… multitasking in today’s world. This is Phenix JiRa and I’m done with that thought!

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