Times, they are a changing. With the influx of technology, an increase in a person’s work load has followed. Today, more has to be done to finish the job, and there are more jobs to be done at once. Multi-tasking has become a commodity, but the accompanying rushed demeanor is making it a liability as well. So how does one overcome these overworking nightmares and become an incomparable asset?
Young people today are very bright. We are able to field calls, respond to emails, deflect our boss’s worries, and finish the assignments (emphasis on the plural ‘assignments’) on time. That is not amazing; that is just what has to be done. Corporations are expanding, the concept of time has become increasingly rapid, and working weekends is as customary as eggnog at the annual office Christmas party. More needs to be done just to stay in the market, so one can imagine the sprint needed to beat out the competition.
With the cultural shift that occurred within the past ten years due to technology, one might assume that a generation rift the size of Texas has divided the workplace into two groups: the young and tech savvy verses the old and old school. To some extent that might be true. There are still some near-retirement employees that never caught on to the convenience of email vs. excessive phone calling, and we all have felt exasperated waiting for a middle aged customer service rep that is unable to type a return code and talk to a customer. But while our two characters still exist in the workplace, many personnel their same ages are more productive than ever.
The new work force hitting the market has management expertise, individual and team skills, creativity, and an unprecedented knack for assimilating into any environment and learning any new computer program. They will alter the future faster than you can sort your emails. However, along with that machine-like speed, more details are being missed, more corners are being cut, and an obsession with numbers and profit is sacrificing the service that builds a lasting consumer market. That is where old school work habits become essential.
The answer to becoming an unrivaled asset lies not in mastering the extremes but in merging the best of both worlds, as cliché as that probably sounds.
Irene Glass, an administrator for Rosewood Care Center Retirement Home, outlined the pros and cons of the incoming work force she is experiencing. “They work quickly and are very task oriented,” she explains, “but they seem to be lacking common sense and critical thinking skills.” She gives the example of a younger employee walking through the lobby. She smiles and greets the “guest,” or patient, and continues on her way. The problem is that the employee neglected to observe that the guest’s feet were not elevated, nor did she offer any additional help besides a kind word. Not to dispel the power of kindness, but being able to notice minute details is what makes a good employee and a satisfied patient, especially in a retirement home.
The ability to multi-task utilizes a huge amount of brain power and causes knowledge and connections to grow faster than if someone was only able to perform one task at a time. That is something Daniel Creed looks for in his employees, but “in a position where crystalline details are important, the multi-tasking sometimes pulls away from that.” Creed is a manager of state legislation and regulation for the ADA. When he works with dental students and externs, averaging around the ages of 21-25, he sees them as assets to the company but not automatic experts. “They grasp the technology tools extremely quickly, so we can cut right through that and focus more on the substance of the job.” The new workforce’s grasp on multi-tasking and technology doesn’t make them the best; they just are much closer to that level.
It does need to be understood, however, that each job requires a different amount of focus. A lawyer needs to analyze every piece of information, but a pilot needs many of his decisions to be second nature reactions. In the same vein, the perspective of a manager is quite different than that of an employee. They might encourage an employee to take her time to ensure her best work possible, but the employee feels the pressures of multiple tasks, deadlines, and stress.
Things are just expected to be done faster. Tiffany Smith, a 32 year old Physical Therapist, is a professional multi-tasker. Since she entered the field in 1995, she has definitely noticed an increase in work load and a shift in the laws. They now accommodate the increase in work by allowing her to do paper work while watching a patient do orthopedic exercises; profit is a motive in every industry.
“I could just turn off of the radio and not joke with my coworkers, and I would get more of my work done faster. But I don’t think it would be as enjoyable,” reasons Smith. That is a major plus for college students who can share a joke with a friend without losing their spot on a page, or those who write papers and tap their foot to music without putting all their attention into the lyrics.
Jim Perusich is a high school English teacher and sees absolutely nothing wrong with the increased emphasis on multi-tasking, especially in a world in which learning is a lifelong process. Joe Chapetta, also a high school English teacher, agrees, “The technology is a God-sent. You have to multi-task in the classroom, and technology just makes it easier. I have to watch behavior, teach lessons, keep their interest peaked, and do it all in 50 minute periods.” Both teachers adapted to a new technology-based culture and used it to stay competitive in their line of work.
Back in “the day,” teaching was always just a lecture. Who ever said passive learning was more effective than interactive learning? Think of those Saturday courses you will be required to take to stay competent in your field. How dull are the ones where all you do is sit and listen? People learn best by doing.
“You can teach anybody the company or the task,” comments Lynne Gow, a nurse at Rosewood Care Center. But tasks change and companies merge. To be good, an employee has to make the whole business a part of their thought process.
The new multi-tasking is catering to a society that we created and are fostering. “There is always a choice,” believes Smith, and we are choosing to learn, read, and experience more and more each day.
So if society as a whole is embracing these new work habits, then what should you do to make yourself better than anyone else?
Lynne Gow: “If you are a critical thinker and a fast worker, then you are a commodity. You will bring some to the table, and then the rest will come with experience.”
“There is a difference between multi-tasking and productive multi-tasking. The ones who will just do a lot will burn out; it takes more than a list of jobs and activities to make you competent. You have to be able to handle it all,” states Perusich.
Let us use our two characters from earlier to highlight this point: the middle-aged customer service rep and the near-retirement anti-emailer. Both employees are given are given a list of three tasks to complete before their lunch break in twenty minutes. The service rep feels stressed, loses his patience, and for the next twenty minutes is running around trying to do three different things at once. The near-retiree looks at the list and systematically (and calmly) completes each task, while still weighing his lunch options. Both employees were able to complete the jobs and make it to lunch, but the service rep might as well have skipped the meal for a nap.
Chapetta agrees. “Multi-tasking only works if you can make the connection.”
You have to identify patterns and apply everything you are doing; it all needs to stream together. Then your multi-tasking becomes organized, and that is when you gain the “edge” we all are looking for.
There is no question about it; the ability to do multiple tasks is becoming almost inbred into people. Everywhere you go, white iPod cords are stringing out of people's coats, pockets, and purses. Cell phones have been permanently attached to the ear, and now they do more than just connect you to a person: you can email text, check stocks, make a movie, and watch TV.
The new multi-tasking is more than just listening to music, controlling the stock market from a cell phone, and typing and talking at the same time. The new multi-tasking is being able to connect what an “ordinary person” (but not you) sees an unconnectable. It is taking the advice and habits from older authorities in your field and adding your own twist. If you can that, my friend, then you will be more than just an asset. You will be an expert.
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Kim Weisensee is a staff writer for Juice! Magazine and a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
For a complete bio, click here.