Saturday, 6 August 2011

Multitasking: The biggest load of hogwash

So many interviews I've been to have featured the question: "Can you multitask?"  First of all, I'm going to say yes even if I can't.  Secondly, multitasking reduces the creativity and quality of the work you do, so it's not such a great quality.  Being a multitasker says you know how to juggle many things without excelling at any one of them.  Companies fail to realise: when an employee multitasks, their only goal is just to push the work out and get it off their backs.  From the company's point of view this is actually fine in most cases, because 95% of jobs don't require the employee doing it to be creative or deeply analytical.

We are not made to multitask though, as impressive as it may look when you do it.  You cannot complete a train of thought or come up with anything mildly original when your mind has to hop from place to place.  Multitasking becomes a problem when you are working on a project mostly by yourself and mostly for your own benefit.  It could be a website you are building, a book you are writing, or a condominium that you are constructing. With projects you need to methodically work from point A and pass all the other alphabets to finally reach point Z.  If you forget G and just hop to H, your work gets compromised.

I hate multitasking.  I like to do one thing at a time and get it done properly.  When I get bored or tired of Project A, I will put it on hold and move on to Project B by choice.  When I feel creatively expended or tired of Project B, then it's back to Project A again.  The key point is I will not do both Projects A and B at the same time, and Project A will have a different deadline to Project B.  Back when I worked for other people this was not possible.  I would have 8 pending things at once - from mundane items like getting information from someone else or arranging a flight to visit a client (very time consuming), to critical deliverables like a report deadline or an imminent review with the vice president.  Here's the worst part: it was all usually all due on the same day.  Everything comes down to minutes.  It all bears down on you at once and your entire working day is spent just pushing things out in the quickest way possible.  That last sentence I just wrote describes most jobs out there.

Another dimension of multitasking that I loathe is bottle necking.  Say you need some piece of info to complete a profitability report due in a couple of hours.  It can be a simple confirmation or rubber stamp from the right person like "yes, margins were indeed down by 5% this year" that you need to complete your report.  You may know in your mind that profits were down by 5%, but to cover your behind you need the official word from the sales manager.  Until you get it, your report will be deemed an assumption.  Until you get that information, your report is not complete and suddenly the smallest bit of missing information becomes a headache with which you have to deal with.  So bureaucracy creeps in as well.

Your workflow is never smooth: you can't just start at point A and walk a straight path to point Z.  You have to zigzag, walk backwards, sideways and occasionally straight.  By the end of it all you've lost your bearings and you just want to go home.  Interruptions, bottle-necking, relentless demands, never-ending requests, bureaucracy, deadlines....welcome to the corporate world.

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