Look in any job posting for a community manager and you will see as a part of the description: “Must be able to multitask.” Now, that seems like one of those “duh!” things, because everyone knows all community managers absolutely must be able to multitask otherwise they would drown in the sea of endless paperwork, problems and deadlines, right? WRONG. Stick with me here, and I’ll show you what I mean.
The term “multitasking” as we use it today is defined as “the handling of more than one task at the same time by a single person.” It appears to have originated in the tech world in the mid-60’s, referring to the use of a single CPU (central processing unit) for the simultaneous processing of two or more tasks. In the 90’s it morphed from tech jargon to how it is commonly used today, so when someone says they are great at multitasking we all know they are good at doing more than one thing at a time, and don’t really have a computer chip embedded in their head. In fact, they’re so competent at multitasking most are considered user-friendly, another term that originated in tech but is now widely used wherever it fits.
But are those multitaskers (of which I always considered myself a tribal member) really doing more than one thing at a time? Or are they rapidly moving from one thing to another? Are we doing that well, or are the demands made on us to “multitask” actually counterproductive to efficient workflow and work product, as well as our own well-being? I say: Yes.
The manager as multitasker: Doing a lot of stuff but not so well
How many of you, under the pressure of a looming deadline(s), a fanatical homeowner waiting for you on hold, 2 budgets to produce and a Board packet to get out, made mistakes, even small ones, while performing, answering, calculating or working that agenda? I would venture to say – everyone. While dreading that call, you were putting the finishing touch on a budget and thinking about that agenda you had to produce. There are also 22 unread messages in your inbox. Your phone is sitting on your desk where there are 4 text messages from your kids, 3 from the landscaper looking for direction, 6 from Board members and of course, the ubiquitous Facebook app. beckoning you to watch cat videos and check on the latest social outrage, which, of course, you check. Now you’re upset about the outrage but back to the budget and then remember the fanatic on the phone. In your mind, a successful 20 minutes of multitasking, even though nothing really got accomplished. This person is living the definition of “multitasking” and my definition of hell. It doesn’t make you a better manager, person or parent. In fact, it controls you. How to cope? Stop multitasking, stop saying it and stop thinking it right now.
Take back control from multitasking!
First things first. This moment, delete the word “multitask” from your vocabulary and your life – it’s a myth and a misnomer, with the exceptions of walking and chewing gum, or driving and drinking a pumpkin-spiced latte.
Manage personal and work-related incoming communication. Put an auto-response on your email indicating you will be answering emails at a certain time. Press the Do Not Disturb button on your phone until you are able to answer those texts or calls and give them your focus.
Free yourself from social media and other pretty worthless stuff. Delete the Facebook app (or Snapchat, or Twitter, or any siren’s call you can’t resist) from your phone. You will Jones it at first, but you are giving yourself the gift of time and sanity away from the social media outrage-horde. It’s upsetting and energy draining and it sucks you in like heroin. Get out if you can’t keep yourself from checking social media several times a day.
*Whew* Now that you’ve freed up at least two hours per day and lightened your psychological load, it’s time to…
… Own the fact that you are, and have been, doing one thing at a time… You have just been letting your mind wander in to the unfocused territory of 1) worrying about the next thing you have to do; i.e., “multitasking” by working on one project and worrying about another, and 2) allowing unrelated distractions such as social media control your behavior. Both are wasted energy that drag down your productivity and raise you stress level.
One thing at a time. Seems like a luxury, right? Doing one thing at a time? Maybe it makes you feel guilty, as if you aren’t doing enough, or what is expected of you. That’s solely your conditioned brain talking, and not true reality. Think: One thing at a time: Own it, repeat it, think it, do it. You’ve been doing that anyway.
Practice more focused behavior. Now that you have divested yourself from certain distractions and are thinking it’s okay to do one thing at a time (even if it’s a very short time), make it real by actually focusing on the task in front of you, whether it’s finishing an agenda, talking with the unhappy fanatic or prepping a budget. Don’t be interrupted unless it’s a truly important matter. Take each thing in its order: What’s on your Action List for the day and then fitting in the issues that inevitably crop up by their importance and relevance. Focus, fix and move on to the next thing. This is managing at its best and most productive: Smooth, seamless, focused and calm.
We live in a world of continual bombardment, and everyone wants something from us – yesterday. We are constantly available. I’m old enough (!!) to remember when we could leave the house and be out of communication for hours at a time, unless we wanted to check in at a pay phone – and be totally fine. Now we wouldn’t dream of it.
Today’s world is better for the technology, but it’s worse as well. My point in all of this is for the managers out there to realize that “multitasking” is not actually real, and placing that burden on ourselves of “I must be doing 4 things at once to feel productive” is counterproductive. “Multitasking” is also a misnomer, and trying to do so results not in greater productivity, but in greater stress: Work-product suffers as that lack of focus causes errors, then more errors, more work, then more work, and lots of stress. Far better to take back control, remove time-wasting distractions and allow ourselves the luxury – no, the necessity – of one thing at a time, making our lives user-friendly by being a focused problem-solver and not a miserable multitasker.
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