A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
September 22nd, 2012 by William

Multitasking—the Myth

Have you ever been in a one-on-one discussion with your boss and he tells you “I’m listening” while he’s simultaneously typing a text message or reading an e-mail? Do you have that feeling that you’re not being taken seriously, that he’s not really paying you the attention you deserve, and he’s only giving you lip service? If so then you’ve fallen victim to the second (only to proactiveness) most prized ability in modern business: “the ability to multitask.” You see the boss is trying to multitask even to the detriment of his relationship with his subordinate.

Multitasking is defined as having the appearance of being able to handle more than one task at the same time−appearance being the operative word. The term originated in the computer industry and it refers to the ability of a computer to “apparently” process several tasks simultaneously.

The fact is many studies have been performed that debunk multitasking. In fact it’s been proven that when supposedly multitasking, most often more time is wasted than gained and supposed multitaskers are predisposed to error. The constant switching of focus between tasks causes more errors due to insufficient attention being provided any single task.

This is because our brains cannot fully focus on more than one thing at a time. What actually happens in multitasking is that you are rapidly changing your focus between tasks rather than simultaneous processing them, thus you’re really only doing a single task at a time, and doing it poorly at that. It also has been proven that it will take far longer—often double the time or more—to get the tasks done than if they were done sequentially.

I’m sure we’ve all seen this in job descriptions: you need to be a good multitasker to qualify for a job. During the interview for the job someone will ask you if you can multitask, and of course you regimentally answer “yes.” It’s the same answer when asked if you are “proactive.” What companies really should be asking is if you can handle multiple priorities and projects without freaking out.

Multitasking has become popular because of the pressure of the constant “sense of urgency’ that permeates modern business thinking. Everything is top priority and most managers will have numerous “irons in the fire” at any given time that must be accomplished, or solved, immediately or they’re labeled a bad manager.

What business really needs is people good at “prioritizing.” Just what does “prioritizing” mean? In their book Rework, Jason Fried & David Hansson tell us we should always focus on the “epicenter” of what’s happening right now. You should be focusing on what’s going to move the organization forward and not get mired down in fire-fighting. To be good at “prioritizing” you need to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff; be able to differentiate between what you “could do,” “want to do,” and most importantly, “have to do.”

Here’s an example. For all the bosses out there; when you’re having a discussion with one of your employees listen to him or her because that’s what you “have to do.” It may not be the thing you want to do (write a text message), or could do (read an email), but it’s the most important thing that you “can do.”

Business needs to give up the ghost of multitasking and trash it as a buzzword and instead promote the ability to prioritize. By promoting the ability to “prioritize” you’re telling your employees that you value their ability to think, reason and make decisions, i.e. that you trust them, which of course is the first step toward becoming a true servant leader.


2 Responses to “Multitasking—the Myth”
  1. Anonymous says

    I love the way you wrote this article. This is wonderful. I do hope you intend to write more of these types of articles. Thank you for this interesting content!

  2. Charline says

    F*ckin’ awesome things here. I am very glad to see your post. Thanks a lot and I’m looking forward to contact you.

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