Do It All. Do It Now. And Do It Well.

A commentary on multitasking.

We were doing it before we even had a name for it. We just thought staying busy 99% of the time –at work, at home, on business, on vacation, wherever – was normal! Little did we imagine such behavior would one day have a name, albeit a somewhat clumsy one: what is this thing called multitasking?

Somewhat new to the dictionary as of ten or so years ago, multitasking (acceptable with or without the hyphen), is a process not only necessary to survive, but actually expected of us. Our employers, our families, our friends, even ourselves and most everyone we encounter on a day-to-day basis (except perhaps the anonymous stranger on the street or the subway) expects us to be many people, wearing different hats, dispensing knowledge and/or service as conveniently as a vending machine.

Are we okay with that?

Well, no and yes. No, often we resent the pressure of having such expectations imposed upon us, especially at work; however, staying gainfully employed is preferred to the alternative and in today’s crazy economy, overachievers are flourishing. And then there are our nearest and dearest who sometimes are the most unthinking in what they expect from us.

It’s true that most of us have adapted and learned this skill in order to compete, even to survive. If you manage a family there’s little doubt that you can avoid multitasking. In fact, women, especially mothers are probably the best (MTs) mulitaskers around.  That’s not to say that men are eliminated from the challenge. There are plenty of dads who understand, especially when they’re going it alone.

Is multitasking healthy? Decide for yourself.

The Pros

Employers love multitaskers for obvious reasons — more bang for the buck, so to speak. Let’s say an employer runs an ad with an agency and hires an account executive that can write, is quick with a new idea, and has a great eye for art direction. Well you have hired one person capable of filling at least three roles. If this person is organized, has good people skills, and understands deadlines, they can become the epitome of the ‘exemplary employee’ with ‘value-added’ characteristics. Smart employers seek this kind of talent, and relish the fact that a multitasker brings intrinsic value to the company.

The Cons

MTs more easily run the risk of burnout. Often they suffer from Wonder Woman or Super Man syndrome, attempting to be all things to all people, at all times. Not exactly the best way to build a career, even if you can bend steel or fly. MTs often expect other people to be multitaskers, too, so anyone doing less than 16 jobs at once might be perceived as a slacker to an MT.

A Multitasker by any other name…

Maybe multitaskers have been among us for generations, and we recognized them by different names. For instance, over-achiever, Type A personality and workaholic are a few more familiar names. However, the word multitasker seems to signify a more well-rounded, organized approach, while the others imply a tendency toward obsession. Regardless of the name, the concept is here to stay. If you don’t believe it, take a look at a job description within any number of industries. If the word itself isn’t in the job requirements, the definition of it sure is. Some employers simply choose not to bandy the word about. After all, they want to fill the position first.

The Balancing Act

Let’s say we more or less agree that multitasking is here to stay and that we have been doing it for a long time, whether we realize it or not. The question is: How do we use the positive elements and make it work for us, still holding to some vestige of balance between the work/play/life scenario?

Priorities Predominate

Once you’ve established what your priorities are, you must then assign a reasonable amount of time for each. You may have a dozen projects in the pipeline at work, then there’s the family – school, vacation, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and so on – and personal pursuits such as hobbies, sports, classes, friends and more. All of these are important and deserve a fair share of your time.

Sadly, what commonly occurs is that we spend too much time in one area while the other parts of our lives go wanting. A tried and true MT will find balance – and, that being a challenge in itself, appeals to the MT.

Whichever way you look at it, this hybrid force of nature seems to have burrowed into our modern day lives, and germinated deep roots. A motivator to some. Often mistaken for sure. And to many people, simply as routine as a morning cup of coffee.