Archive for September 18th, 2011

Multi-Tasking reality or just fad? September 18th, 2011

Vinod Kumar

In this fast paced IT life, I have come across many questions – how do you manage to do so many things at the same time? More so, have seen on certain job-description asking special mention on Multi-tasking. Just thought will take a stab at this very topic.

Let us first try to understand what is multi-tasking, why need multi-tasking and ultimately in a job how can you measure multi-tasking (not as per employer but ourselves).

What – Well, doing 2-3 things at once or in quick succession can be coined as multi-tasking. In my opinion this is just going to make you less efficient than doing them one-by-one. I also try to do a number of things in parallel but more often get blind-sighted of the fact that that more than the start, it is the finish that counts. Giving an commitment and not sticking to it is one of the biggest mistake one can do. I generally have a tendency to ask for more time and deliver it before time so that there are no expectations broken and you are with lesser stress. Toughest part is to negotiate this well with the person whom you work.

Juggling multiple activities can also bring down the quality of work that you do. Every time you switch between tasks you have to reset on your thinking process and you might become myopic on the short term problems that you are more likely to miss out on the long term impact. Even inside software engineering this is critical so that future architectural changes are not required just because you are trying to do a hotfix for a problem today.

“Multitasking is great, if it exists but practically it doesn’t”

Why – The inner drive to do more with less is always something that pushes us hard every single day and this is something that is keeping us busy too. This is more of a desire than reality. Multi-tasking can be achieved easier if the tasks you are performing involves different part of your attention. Try watching movie and listening to a song from PC at the same time. This requires genuine mental effort and attention that cannot be mimicked. Doing background activities is absolutely fine when the task moves away from conscious level to mundane sub-conscious mind – like listening to music while you are in a gym or enjoying music while eating etc.

Just saw this wonderful article on NYTimes, which states that based on a sampling of employees inorder to get back to serious work like coding after responding to email requires atleast 15 mins. I agree to the argument, though it might not be in the same capacity. There is surely a serious productivity loss because of multi-tasking.

Not Single Minded but focused and creative

We all know we are not super-humans nor have capabilities of a fictional superman. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when we devote all our attention to the task in hand, we cut all out distractions from our environment, and can even lose our sense of self. In a nut shell the talk bring out, when you are in flow –

  1. You get completely involved and your focus and concentration levels are on the high.
  2. Clarity on progress – how we are doing and what needs to be done.
  3. The end is clear as we are doing the task in hand.

Concentration is critical to outstanding creativity and this is the reason why people do meditation or yoga.

Interested in the TED Talk –

No loss of signal

In my opinion there are multiple factors that need to decide if the task is multi-taskable or not. There must be NO loss on any of the following attributes when doing multi-tasking –

  1. Listening skills
  2. Decision Making
  3. Attention to details
  4. Problem solving
  5. Following instructions / procedures
  6. Oral Communication
  7. Customer Focus (at work)


BTW, if you are thinking what inspired me to explore this very topic – well I was on call with a call-center person who was struggling to get information about me while processing the problem I was explaining and checking the system for possible resolution (all at once). I had to slow down and was frustrated of the experience. After doing my homework now I realize that is surely a tough job to be in with special skills too.

So do you believe in multi-tasking? What has been the effects of the same on you? Feel free to share your experience.

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