Multitasking Myth

TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2010

In today's hi-speed world more and more is squeezed into the 24 constant hours in a day. Therefore, everyone is perennially short of time. Consequently, many activities run concurrently. People are processing multiple tasks simultaneously. They assume that doing several things at the same time is the best and only way to succeed. Just like microprocessors perform myriads of computations per second! But there the analogy breaks down. People are vastly different from computers even though many human beings have now morphed into near robotic zombies! Is multitasking inevitable or desirable? The answer is a firm no on both counts! Surprised or indignant? Stop for a moment and think about what I'm about to say! Completing a task and meeting a deadline is not important. What is important is completing a task as per specifications, without errors, with total accuracy as per deadline, with excellence. That is a huge difference. Knocking things together just to meet a deadline contains the seeds of failure within it.

That's because the hurried, stressed-out performance of a task automatically reduces attention to detail and therefore guarantees errors. Hurry and stress, as is well known, extract a fearsome toll in terms of damage to health and relationships. Errors force you to incur huge costs for correction which in turn lead to time overruns. Add to that the loss of reputation and credibiity and the costs are truly mindboggling. Success can never accompany such astronomical costs. Multitasking sets you up for failure. This sounds counterintuitive and contrary to conventional wisdom. But reflect a moment and you'll see what I'm getting at. If you slow down and do one thing at a time your focus and concentration on what you're doing will climb exponentially. When that happens, you'll begin delivering error-free output first time right (which incidentally is what total quality is all about). Complete one task fully and then move to the next. Close one issue and then take up the next. That way you'll be able to devote your undivided attention to the task at hand. The quality of your work is then bound to increase. While the time per activity may be marginally higher, accuracy and quality will be exponentially better. Since you wont spend any time going back and fixing errors, your projects will take the same or less time. Your 24 hours will become far more productive and effective. So if you do one thing at a time how do you handle zillions of tasks that have to be completed as per deadline? This is where your discrimination and planning come into play. Learn to differentiate between what is urgent and what is important; the two are rarely the same. Very often, much more often than we care to admit, procrastination and complacency combine insidiously and make us neglect that which is important. That's because the really important priorities rarely make a hue and cry and clamour for our attention. So we conveniently neglect them until the eleventh hour. Then panic sets in! Important has now become a life-threatening urgent, emergency! If you are constantly lurching from one urgent-emergency to another its a sure sign that you are neither discriminating between what is important and urgent nor are you planning and preparing adequately. Because you are under such extreme time pressure your concentration is all but absent. Since you are constantly worrying about the outcome you are taking your eyes off the ball and so your work is always shoddy. How do you make a difference to your work style  First, understand what is truly important and what is urgent. Pour your attention on the important stuff. To understand this, take an example and look at your relationships. Strengthening your relationships is clearly important. That means lavishing time and attention on people you care about. If you don't do that nobody is likely to complain vociferously or violently (at least not most of the time). But after a while, your loved ones will move away or become cold to you. Then it becomes a crisis and the relationship is on the verge of breakdown; mending it becomes an urgent necessity. The important has now grown fangs and is about to go for your jugular in the garb of an urgent Dracula! The fact of the matter is that your neglect converted the important saint into an urgent vampire. Who is responsible? I must of course hasten to add that an emergency like an accident or sudden illness or death (God forbid) is outside the scope of what I've just said. You do need to drop everything and respond to those emergencies. Bit its applicable to all else. Second, allocate higher priority to the important items on your list. The most important items deserve the highest priority. Third, allot a greater amount of time for the important items. Start early. Wake up earlier, drop aimless wandering and spend time preparing for your assignments. Give adequate time for yourself to complete the project with excellence. Fourth, plan as far ahead as you can. However, keep some empty spaces in your schedule because unforseen events are bound to occur. That way you'll be able to respond to some crisis or emergency as it arises. Think of all possibilities when you plan your schedule. Fifth, learn to say no when you are overloaded already. Don't take on an ever increasing load just because you want to please everyone. If you do that you won't do justice to your responsibilities and you are bound to fail or even suffer breakdowns of various kinds (health, relationships, financial, emotional); your own life, reputation and well being are at stake. And let's face it, nobody really cares about any of that except you! If you turn in poor quality because you are overloaded, no one is going to give you any margins any way. And finally, think and re-think your priorities constantly. To do that you've got to set your direction. What's really important to you ? Where do you want to be ten years from now ? These are the questions that you need to stop and ponder over often. That's when your priorities become clearer. When you learn to think clearly through these steps you'll automatically slow down and do one thing at a time with excellence. Of course, this takes practice and dedication. Then, multitasking, fragmented attention, stress and lack of concentration will all decline significantly. That's when success bestows her luscious fruits on you!

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