Friday, August 7, 2009

How Many Things Can You Do at Once?

I used to have a magazine clipping posted to the bulletin board above my desk that said, “You know you’re too busy when…”

It listed a number of signs of over-work including, “You feel decadent for taking time off from work for surgery,” and, “You return business calls in between labor pains.”

There was a time when I considered ‘ability to multi-task’ an important job skill – I was really proud to be a master multi-tasker. It was on my resume. Then one day, when I was running a little late I attempted to blow my nose at the same time as I was brushing my teeth.

Don’t try this.

That was when I started to believe that doing too many things at once could be a really bad idea, and it turns out that I may not be completely wrong.

Scientific American reports that, “A study in the July 16th issue of Neuron suggests that though we can train our brains to work faster as we juggle, we never actually manage to do more than one thing at a time.”

I heard a story recently about an organization that had been downsized from eight people to four. Those four, all new in their jobs because the work had also been consolidated in a central location, were working 10-12 hour days, each juggling two jobs. Interestingly, the big boss’s perception was that he had taken an organization of eight people and grown it to twelve.

In another company, organizations gave up headcount to staff a team with specialized skills that would support them. But the new organization had to reduce costs and cut the team dramatically. The players left on the new team had to juggle 3-4 jobs each. The bosses didn’t understand why this didn’t work.

Sound familiar?

How many ‘hats’ have you had to wear at one time? How many jobs have you been given where you had multiple masters in the name of efficiency? How many times has your organization been ‘consolidated’ or work ‘eliminated’ that then had to be picked up by those left on the team?

When was the last time you had a job where the scope was … let’s say, reasonable?

Tell your story with a comment here.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

You tried to blow your nose while brushing your teeth? I am laughing out loud, slow down girl. You could try my approach: Start something and move on to the next without finishing, until you have so many things going none of them can possibly be finished, ever.

Firefly said...

Anonymous, sadly yes.. I did actually do that. Only once though -- I do learn my lessons. I could try your approach (lol)... but I'm one of those obsessive compulsive types that needs to cross things off lists.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking at a saying above my desk for a long time.....
"Don't take life seriously.....it's only a temporary situation"

Firefly said...

So true...

Silke said...

I often find myself multi-tasking, but I think it slows me down. I get much more done quicker if I plan what I do and do each task with focus. Now that's not to say it happens that way all the time.

Firefly said...

Silke -- that is so true! And the scientists agree with you -- focus is better.

Anonymous said...

In his article in the March/April issue of NEAtoday, "You say Multitasking like it's a good thing", Professor Charles J. Abate points out that microprocessors don't literally perform several tasks simultaneously. "They are inherently linear in their operation and can perform only one task at a time".

Firefly said...

Anonymous -- that is such a great point! Even a computer brain has to do one thing at a time!