What do we really mean by multi-tasking?

Multitasking is one of those buzzwords that never goes out of style – “oh look at him work on two projects at the same time, he is a great multi-tasker” – even though it is completely impossible to actually work on two tangible projects at the same time (unless of course you have your right hand coding on one and your left hand updating reports on the other.)

So if not simultaneous project development, then what is it?

Without looking in a dictionary, it’s the ability to handle multiple requests at the same time from a variety of sources, prioritize those items, determine when they are estimated deliveries are and work towards those deliveries.

Now where things start to fall down for people is when the number of internal requests they have on their plate, exceed the number of requests they can really handle.  Some people can handle 2, some can handle 6.  Those requests (or tasks) are further complicated when we add a weight to each one, where the weight factor is a sum of our complexity of the task, risk/reward, etc.  We all have our own internal weights that we apply to tasks, and hence this sets the overall weight.

But there is a hidden weight that we all internally apply to this multitude of tasks that really drive our ability to multi-task and that is of course our own personal anxiety factor – what can I handle, what can I do, this looks too hard how am I going to get it done, this Tsunami of work is not getting any better, how is it I got here in the first place?

Depending on the level of anxiety, a few things start to happen;

  • We start ignoring tasks – this minimizes your bucket, but that can leave a big hole in your credibility.
  • We try to do everything – so we try to give a bit to every task hoping that we get there and at some point and hopefully people recognize our efforts spread across everywhere.
  • We hide – we anti-task, taking the task that has a lot of busy work that is easy to do, not a challenge, but lets show we are doing the work, even though the priority is not the correct one.

So what’s the answer here?  There is no one-size fits all to getting multiple things done but it comes down to a few things;

  • Set your Priority – This isn’t rocket science, it is looking at the things on your list and ranking them from most to least importance, not simplest to hardest, but rather by what needs to be done.
  • Communicate – Make people aware of your priorities and how you are tackling them, this helps manage expectations for your multi-tasking
  • Set your Level – everyone has a different level of “what” they can manage and take on without losing their mind.  For you, figure it out, set it.
  • Stay the Path – avoid the distractions, avoid the fires that need to be put out that are not really fires and just distractions to get you to do something else.

The last piece is the growth part – if  my “multi-tasking” was based on what I did when I was 18, it is very different then what I do now.  If I applied that same logic and what I could handle to what I work on now, it would be a much lower number.  I had to learn to take on more, I know where my level is and that is part of growth – figuring out the strategies necessary to grow and perhaps not only take on more BUT be able to concurrently handle more.

Try and push yourself, not to continually take on more, but to take on more and do it very, very, very well – those are the true multi-taskers.

 

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