Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Multi-Tasking


From BLOGS_IMAGES


I find myself frustrated a lot these days.

Frustration isn’t a good feeling. It leads to health problems, irritability, lack of sleep and a host of other bad things.

It appears that the majority of my frustration comes about due to the fact that I can’t get a lot of things done. It is an inability to complete a task, or at the very least, the task takes much more time to complete than it should.

Now I realize that I am partly to blame for this. I give myself more things to do than I can probably realistically get done. Every year or so, the wife and I have to ‘clean house’. Which is another way of saying, we go through our home and throw away all the old projects that we realize aren’t going to ever be completed or that have just fallen off the radar.

However, there are some tasks that we just can’t do this with. They are usually the tasks forced on us by others. Usually our employers or our families.

There are two primary frustration creators in this vein. One is the expectation that others will do things for you and our refusal or inability to tell these people ‘No’. By being charitable and helping others, we, in effect, enable them to fail and they return to us over and over again seeking help, support, advice or problem solving skills.

The other primary source of outside frustration is lack of resources. This is another way of saying that you are spreading the workers too thin. The catch phrase back in the 1990s was ‘multi-tasking’. This came from the use of computers, which could do more than one thing at a time. Such as, you could work on a spreadsheet AND print out a Word document. You didn’t need to wait for one process to end before you started the next one. Pretty cool, when you talk about computer....not so cool when you talk about people.

It became a boastful statement when workers would state that they could ‘multi-task’. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this. Not everyone can do it and not everyone should do it. It depends on the tasks.

As resources have been cut back over the years (i.e. less staff to do the work), management has seen multi-tasking as a way of keeping the same production level with fewer workers. You, as a worker, no longer have a JOB, you now have several JOBS, depending on who calls in sick or who gets laid off or who is on vacation.

I often explain it this way. If you are an accountant and you are hired by Ford Motor Company to create financial spreadsheets, you are hoping to really flex your muscle with Excel and create some killer workbooks. But what if after 3 months on the job, your supervisor comes to you and says, “Hey Bob, production just called, and they are really short staffed on the Pinto production line today, could hop on down there and install windshields for a few hours? It would REALLY help us out.”

Since Bob wants to be seen as a ‘team’ player he agrees. But the danger here is, once Bob knows how to work on the production line, Bob is going to be seen as a production line ‘resource’. So the next time half the Pinto builders all call in sick because Ford cuts back on their coffee breaks, who do you think they are going to call? Thats right...Bob.

The end result is obvious. Splitting Bob’s resources between creating Excel spreadsheets and building Ford Pintos means you won’t get good spreadsheets and you won’t get good Pintos. And Bob is going to get a little ….. frustrated, because this isn’t what he signed up for, nor is it what he wants to do. He didn't go to accounting school to learn how to build long lasting highway safety flares.

You wouldn’t want your heart surgeon splitting his time between operating room prep and working in the hospital pharmacy now would you? Some would say that being a surgeon is much to important and skilled a job to multi-task, but you would be wrong. Almost ANY job in the United States these days is extremely complex.

I work in an office where I have to track in excess of 10,000 children, there welfare and their well being, but I am also tasked with answering the phones for my division several times a month. In essence, I am their statistician and their front desk receptionist. So, in addition to worrying about missing 500 children that have medical needs that aren’t being addressed on a multipule sheet Excel workbook, I also have to worry about placing multiple people on hold and losing them when I try and transfer them.

But such is the way of the Western World today. With professionals from India and China willing to work for minimum wage, for 60 hours a week, it is either multi-task or or stand in line at the soup kitchen.

As I have stated before, I hope to be able to make it to retirement, where I can focus on ONE task at a time, until they are all done. However, I think I am in for a whole boatload of frustration between now and then.