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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December 24, 2014

When in the Course

Filed under: Career Advancement,Career Tips,Management — Yvonne LaRose @ 8:12 PM
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Maybe you’re also a fan of The Amazing Race, a TV reality show that has contestants conquer tests and obstacles around the world in order to win $1,000,000 (in addition to various segment prizes).

A few years ago, a middle-aged couple had the task of counting beads and reporting to the gatekeeper the number they’d reached. Mind you, there was a factory room filled with these beads. Just the sight of them would make your head swim. Counting them, while daunting by the sheer volume, was doable. The husband of the middle-aged team began counting. He kept getting the wrong number and had to begin again. In one clip, there was a record of his losing count by ten beads.

So it goes when you’re standing alone and dealing with an overwhelming amount of content. Things need to be brought into perspective. Things need to be organized into manageable chunks. Some things need to be delegated, if possible, to teams that have more hands, more ideas about how to effectively organize things, more experience in managing the scope of the project.

Sometimes it doesn’t really matter where you start nor what you choose to put first. It’s simply a matter getting an idea of how to organize the project and then choosing what will be the first line of attack. Just stick your hand into the mosh and make it the starting point. There are many great examples of dealing with the jumbled chaos of a huge project.

Bringing order from chaos.

Bringing order from chaos. (from

There will be times when the greatest distraction proves to be external circumstances that need to be resolved before starting the project. If they’re ignored, they prove to be like an elephant in a 4 x 3 room. Every time you try to do something, you find yourself bumping into a blockage. Clear up some of the distractions. Take care of the external; resolve it. Handling it in small bite-sized chunks won’t do because it’s still there being a distraction that needs to be settled. It’s like a burr in your shoe. Just not having it waiting in the wings will be a relief and free your mind to focus on what needs to be done.

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July 14, 2012

Have a Plan

Filed under: Leaders,Management — Yvonne LaRose @ 5:23 PM
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It’s striking when you observe some situations and realize the recurring problem is not so much a problem as it is a belief that things will take care of theirselves. Not so. These observations come from the tutor, teacher, child care provider perspective but they’re essentially universal. Followers, workers, students, and kids all seek guidance from their leader. They want the security of knowing there is some direction and purpose in regard to their activities. Without the guidance and a type of agenda for their activities, they feel lost and a need to keep checking in about what they’re supposed to be doing.

It helps to have a schedule with specific activities for specific times of the day or throughout the project. The activities need to be not only engaging but also purposeful. It helps to know when it will start; it’s even more helpful to have a sense of what signals the stopping point. Even more important is the knowledge that there’s a destination and being able to gain a sense of when that’s about to happen.

It’s important to keep the activity fun so the person stays interested. If fun doesn’t work for that situation, it’s helpful to post a challenge that will keep the person engaged because it’s educational or solves a problem. Allow them to feel as though their abilities are unique enough that they are the right person to create the solution. Most of all, at the end of the designated period of time, check in to see how the project is going and what was accomplished. Then offer a reward that’s meaningful. Sometimes it can be a simple acknowledgement. At other times, it can be a treat. And at still other times, it can mean the freedom to move on to another activity or choose what will happen next (within reason).

The creative aspect also encourages engagement. Engagement will induce sticking with the project because of the interest factor. It’s really gratifying when you have to tear your worker away from the project in order to get them started on something else. It staves off boredom because they feel there’s something they’re doing that is useful. They’ll look forward to the next day to get started again in order to finish what they’re doing. The more the worker gets involved with their project and has the liberty to use their creativity, the more they’ll begin to either silently compete with their own self to do a better job than on the last project or (especially if there’s some type of percussive element involved) compete in a healthy way with their team mates to do more with good integrity of product.

When it comes to people, it doesn’t really matter what the age. They simply want to feel as though the leader has a plan that everyone is working to achieve. Sometimes it’s important to give the big picture to those involved with it so that there’s an investment in the goal. Sometimes it’s enough to just allow the workers the satisfaction of knowing they’re part of the solution. They need a sense of direction. You know, having people carry buckets of water for miles could be viewed as similar to slavery and drudgery. But when they realize each bucket is watering the field or preventing disaster, they realize where their efforts are directed and that the efforts are purposeful. It makes them want to be part of the solution and that’s tied to the reason for the plan.

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