Monday, February 14, 2011
The Multi-tasking Edge
I think most would agree on some loose definition of multitasking that refers to engaging in multiple activities at one time. It is often used in a manner that communicates optimal efficiency. Like when a mother moves clothes from the washer to the dryer, while she is on hold with the doctor's office, and she's keeping a watch on the 1-year old in the jumpy seat. Or when a student sends a text to their fling, while on the phone with their squeeze, while watching a movie with their ex.
Of course, there are also times when such efficiency is not appreciated. Like when someone is checking their voice mail and sending texts during a meeting we called to make sure they are focused on identified priorities. Far from singing the praises of their productivity, we say these people have ADD and we mock them.
Therein lies the usual contradictory interpretations that so many "new" words embody.
As for me, I do not enjoy multi-tasking and never really have. Mostly, this is because I know that most of my intellectual strengths are maximized when I am allowed to focus. I am more of an information processor than I am an instant reactor.
My job demands multi-tasking now to ensure that our organization is firing on many cylinders, but I don't think I am personally, optimally productive in an environment where I must constantly shift my focus from matter to matter. I also think that most people, despite a common tendency to brag about multi-tasking abilities, are not nearly as productive as they might be with a more sustained focus on one task at a time.
So if you brag to me about your multi-tasking habits, I will probably conclude that you have over-estimated your own productivity. And if you disparage me for my penchant to focus, I will probably conclude that you have under-estimated mine.