The Desk

March 2, 2017

Terms of Art: Multitasking

Multitasking gone wrong

Multitasking gone wrong

The job ad called for someone who know how to multitask. The interviewee said they’re an expert at multitasking. In actuality, they were probably talking about being hyperactive and distracted while doing multiple things that are not in any way related to the other. What they’re actually talking about is double (or even triple) scheduling several tasks that aren’t related and then getting burnout because the person’s attention is being simultaneously pulled in many directions. Guess who’s going to drop the ball. Guess who’ll get blamed for the mess that results.

Terms start out meaning one thing. They’re an evolution of the language we use. Eventually the term becomes accepted and used without having a sense of what it actually means. It just gets used at an increasing rate and in more places until it’s just a more sophisticated sounding term that people assume means one thing. But in actual practice, what the person is thinking it means is a totally different situation.

In a business sense, you might think of multitasking as similar to supply chain management or SCM. SCM is a large scale multitasking endeavor. It involves more of the picture and more points of reference to track and manage. It involves managing and coordinating different parts of a process so that the entire thing comes together at the same time. This is very important when you have schedules that need to be kept. The degree to which the project is well organized and orchestrated indicates there will be few glitches.

Still in a business sense, a prime example of multitasking would be in the kitchen of a restaurant (or even a fast food establishment). You start with preparing the tools in order to cook the food. Then you begin the food preparation while the stove (or oven) is heating. Maybe it’s the pot or skillet that needs to hold the food. No matter. While those are in process, it’s time to cut, peel, dice the items that will go into the cooking container. Likewise, the food that needs the longest duration for cooking will be the first into the container. Meanwhile, whatever utensils that were used and are no longer necessary for the preparation can be washed and stored as the dish continues to cook. All the items for the plate are being processed to reach the plate at the same and with the same temperature.

In a domestic setting, it’s entirely possible to start washing a load of laundry while another load dries. Since neither of those activities need to be monitored, it’s possible to start the dishwasher as well as vacuum (or sweep) the floor. The machines are minding the long duration, automated activities while the one task that requires human management is done.

So when you’re talking about multitasking (or any other jargon of the day), make certain you know the proper definition of what you’re doing and discussing. To do otherwise may bring you to the end of a conversation filled with misunderstandings and disappointments. Make certain you’re both talking about the same thing and that you understand the concepts behind the definition.

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