Aug. 15, 2015



I was discussing Normative versus Positive analysis with my students and it made me think of this topic.

In brief, Normative analysis is when we use value judgements to form an opinion based upon what "should happen" or "should be".  On the other hand, Positive analysis is based upon definitive and supportive facts. This leads us to "what is".

Now, you wonder what this has to do with Multi-tasking.  The fact is-There is no such thing as multi-tasking. As much as we would all like to have the ability to do multiple things concurrently we simply are not wired to perform in this manner. (Normative desires)  In reality people have the capacity to focus on only one thing at any one time. (Positive) 

Be careful, that isn't to say that we can't have several plates on the table and rapidly shift focus from one issue to another. In fact if many of the issues are minor they will require very little focus; but focus regardless. In reality it may be beneficial to keep a large variety of issues on tap so that when we have a lull in need for focus on the major issue we can both make strides for resolution of the minor issue and provide ourselves with a mental break.

About now you are saying, "This is all semantics. If we are developing an ability to swiftly shift focus, it all results in the same thing". This is where I take umbrage with the whole "multi-tasking" concept. The key to the "swiftly shifting focus" idea is that you dilute your concentrated efforts to resolve an issue.  In fact over time you may well find you are reducing your ability to efficiently prioritize efforts to resolve issues. You may be showing progress on many fronts but are much less able to quickly resolve the major issue in a timely manner.

We see this today in everything from Production to Politics. Managers who will tell you they have made the following progress on issues a, b, c, d, & e. I would rather have a subordinate who tells me (at 4P.M.) that they have resolved a & b and will tackle the c, d, & e in the morning. It allows me to reassess assets, including that workers assignments, and gives me the knowledge that two plates are off the table.

The way to think of multi-tasking is by thinking about the instructor who worked for me at the Community College.  One day I saw six or eight programs open on his desktop. Asking him why he replied that he multi-tasked. I then asked him to bring up a spread-sheet in x-cel. Then I asked him to take a memo in word. I pointed out to him that all those open programs were unused until he addressed the job on that screen. He was guilty of believing this was multi-tasking instead of recognizing it was merely a pile of individually accessed tasks.

I would ask you to think more about prioritizing and less about trying to impress others with something that doesn't exist.