By now we all are used to the fact that the things we like, enjoy, and come to rely on will sooner or later prove to be damaging, unhealthy, and just bad for us in some way, shape, or form: coffee is bad, milk is questionable, computers are deadly, TV is brainwashing our children, and cell phones emit radiation. This is just the world we live in. There are tons of articles, studies, and opinions that support this and more. All true of course, but does not help much because, as I pointed out earlier, all these wonderful facts and opinions attack the very things that make us productive and happy members of modern society. This is true at least for those of us who make our living in hi-tech, and if you are reading this article, chances are that you are one of us.
So what’s on the latest hit list? Well, it’s my favorite thing: multitasking.
Seriously, by now there are so many articles that attack multitasking, you can’t possibly keep up unless you are, in fact, multitasking! Most of them are a variation on the well-known theme of, “Multitasking is the art of messing up several things at once.” And if reading these articles is not persuasive enough, you can even buy a t-shirt that will remind you of this in bold capital letters.
I personally like multitasking, and in my line of work I rely on it every day. This is why I decided to say just few words in defense of such a notorious vice. I like multitasking and continue using it on a daily and hourly basis for one reason: it makes me better at my job, or rather at one particular aspect of my job: it makes me better at being responsive.
First, let’s agree on something that we already know that is cited again and again: a human is no more capable of truly doing two things at the same time (at least professionally) than a single-core CPU — perhaps with the exception of walking a chewing bubble gum, of course. So what we call multitasking is really the ability to rapidly stop what we are doing, divert our attention to something else, then something else, and then come back to the original task. This cycle of switching from one task to another is certainly not ideal — and it’s no surprise that it is being so heavily criticized — but the reality is that this is how most of us function in our professional and domestic environments. There are way too many things on our plate, and too many distractions that surround us. Just like we are teaching our children: we need to learn how to deal with the situation, not how to hide from it.
In my case, I am running a team of developers and engineers, and the effectiveness of my team depends on a strong flow of communication. Constantly inflicting the open and frequent communication policy, I also subscribe to the “open door” philosophy, which means that I encourage my team to come to me anytime and for any reason, knowing that they probably won’t have to wait for my attention for longer than few minutes, even if I am at my busiest.
Then there are peers who are also encouraged to come to me at any time and for any reason — be it to ask for some technical expertise, review a deliverable, or just to use me as a sounding board. Again, the same rules apply: openness and availability, regardless of whether you are working for me, with me, or above me.
There are also clients: all those who have enjoyed working with SweetRush for years and those who are just starting with us. They praise us — not only on the merits of our product, but also because they love working with us for many reasons, particularly our responsiveness. In other words, they enjoy our customer service, and our ability to provide that level of service often depends on our talent to — you guessed it — multitask.
Finally, there are all other things that are on our plates: tasks, projects, operations, meetings, and more tasks… They demand our attention just like our peers do and just like our clients do. Let’s face it, folks: no matter where you work, there is a good chance that you are dealing with the necessity to do multiple things in a short time. If you can really do them one by one — each one from the beginning to the end before switching to another task — more power to you! But for the rest of us, the answer is not to avoid multitasking, but to embrace it, to get better at it, and to find your own special groove — the one that allows you not only to do many things in a short time, but also to do them well.