Thursday, May 19, 2011

Multi-Tasking Isn't Really What We Do

Monday I posted an article about how to cut down on distractions which lead to a conversation on Twitter and now.... This Article!

The conversation got my mind thinking about the past and the world my parents grew up in along with my own changing world.

My Dad spent 25+ years working as a purchasing agent for 3 different companies.

He had a secretary. She took care of his correspondence, answered his phone or screened his calls and there was no voicemail.
Dad was able to concentrate on what ever project he was working on because he was able to close the door to his office and have time to focus on one thing.

The next generation, mine, saw the dawn of word processors.
These were not full fledged computers, but an upgrade from a typewriter.

They had a screen and you could save text on floppy discs. I was working as a radio commercial producer. I would interview business owners and the employees, create advertising campaigns, write scripts, voice and produce commercials.
Before we had the word processors, my handwritten scripts were typed by a secretary. Word processors were less expensive than a real live person and it started the current multi-tasking culture we live in.

The other factor was economic. As computers where able to do more and more and we eliminated the need for extra people, those who were left wore multiple hats. Downsize to save money but the job (work) wasn't really eliminated, it was given to others.

Multi-tasking sounds like doing multiple tasks at once. And that is why I say multi-tasking isn't really what we do.

We Stop One Task and Start Another and repeat several times a day.

Now that my kids are in their 20's this is the work world they have always known, very different from their grandparents generation.

I was almost done with this article but I felt I left an important part out.
There really is what I would call true multi-tasking going on around us.

Just watch any Mom take care of more than one young one while preparing a meal and doing two or three other things at once.
It might be a biological and gender thing but I know it is real.


  1. I really like this post, Scott!

    As a young professional from your kids' generation I completely understand what you're saying here. The concept of a secretary seems so strange and antiquated when we're brought up to be proficient as these things on our own. Great insight.

    The rapid pace of technological advancement really has had an incredible impact on how I view work. I know I'm a terrible multi-tasker (in the sense you're defining) but I AM good at working on multiple tasks at different times. The power of technology and normal (modern) work expectations dictate that I HAVE to be capable of such a feat.


  2. Jarred,

    I appreciate your comments. The other side of this whole concept is that we either interrupt ourselves or let others interrupt us so we might think we are multi-tasking, but we are just bouncing from one task to another.

    What I've also discovered is a lack of downtime can stifle our creativeness, so we need to plan some downtime into our lives every week too.