Up Front: Multi-Tasking
This is certainly a hot new term for the millennia. As society moves faster, gets smarter and capable of so much more than our forefathers could have even imagined, we need to move quickly, very quickly. To succeed, we must be accomplished multi-taskers. We have to be able to read e-mails, answer the phone, prepare reports and listen to co-workers all at the same time. To make it in today’s world, you are expected to do all these things simultaneously or you will be left behind. Are you an accomplished multi-tasker or not?
COAST TO COAST
A group of three professors were puzzled at how the accomplished multi-tasker was able to perform multiple tasks simultaneously and set out to find what made this hypothetical individual so unique. Since the accomplished multi-tasking person is obviously pretty smart, they decided to test college students. These were not just any students but the brightest at MIT and Stanford. After all, could one side of the coast be better than the other?
What’s it mean to multi-task? It was made clear that watching the children while you cook dinner or breathing and walking at the same time are not multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is performing simultaneous, higher-level brain functions that typically require attentiveness and some degree of concentration. Examples would be writing a report while watching a television show and texting.
The three professors performing the analytical research each had made a guess as to what made the accomplished multi-tasker unique. The first professor assumed it was the ability to discard irrelevant information; the second presumed they had trained their brains to switch from one task to another more quickly and seamlessly. The third professor felt the accomplished multi-tasker was simply a super organizer, capable of putting tasks in neat, orderly compartments. Turns out they were all wrong.
The research conclusively proved that multi-tasking is a myth. While these superstars think they are great at each task they are performing simultaneously, they are in reality only fair at best and far from reaching their true potential.
I was not completely shocked to learn this, because it is similar to our trade crafts. I have met many who thought they were a master at several crafts and in reality they were only fair or average at all of them. Even when you get to a single trade, the expertise can be more specific. I knew plasterers that focused on a single discipline and they became extremely good at it (and I mean to the point it was almost unbelievable what they could do).
I have a friend who was certain that his good friend is an accomplished multi-tasker and he could prove it. He noted that in meetings, this person was almost always seated with his hands under the table and head down relentlessly texting, and when a subject matter would come up in a meeting, he could jump in and add coherent and relevant comments. I thought for a moment and asked if the meetings were an area of his expertise. He replied “absolutely yes.” This is when a person can almost tune out or at least pay minimal attention and get away with it.
If you are such an expert at something, you can virtually predict the meeting agenda, the flow of the meeting and being the guru on the subject matter. It becomes rather easy to pay minimal attention and still be the timely and relevant expert. It is not common to be that much of an expert in a particular subject matter but certainly possible.
My concern is the future and what we are expected to accomplish and what society expects of us. The construction industry is a great example of promoting the concept of multi-tasking. Our forefathers built buildings that were more basic and they lasted for many decades with minimal problems. I am not so sure I would make that statement about today’s buildings.
Today’s buildings are certainly more complicated but how much better are they really? We still have leaks, we still lose massive amounts of energy; all the while they are more complicated and cost a fortune to build. Maybe we need to take a collective deep breath and focus more on a single task at a time. As in our personal life, trying to be all things to all people is just a bit unrealistic—a little like multi-tasking.