I was reading an article online this morning that mentioned employers listed multitasking as one of the most valuable characteristics they look for in their employees or prospective employees. My skin began to crawl.
Multitasking, to me, is a myth -- a sometimes dangerous myth. If you've ever been annoyed by the driver who is simultaneously texting and obliviously cutting you off, then perhaps you agree.
I think it is important to understand what employers mean when they cite multitasking as a valuable skill. When I first think of the word multitasking, I see in my mind's eye a person who is talking on the phone and trying to compose an e-mail or surf the net. I see a person who is giving me half of his or her attention while dealing with some other matter on the desk in front of them. In short, I see rudeness and ineffectiveness.
I don't think these are the types of multitasking that employers are looking for. It is possible for us to truly mutitask in certain activities. Perhaps you are able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It's possible to listen to a traffic report on the radio and drive at the same time. But what makes these things possible is that at least one of the tasks takes little or no active thought on our part. The more intensive the tasks, the less likely you can do more than one of them. Furthermore, the more tasks you add, regardless of how small, the more of your brain's processing power you're going to eat up.
In an era of speed and almost overwhelming information input, you are much better served by learning to focus and plan than to attempt these immediate kinds of multitasking. What employers truly want from you is the ability to manage your schedule so that you can give each task the attention it needs and deserves. Yes, they want you to be able to work on more than one project at a time. They want you to be able to keep the details straight when you leave your desk after working on the Anderson account to attend a meeting about the new Bennington account, but they really don't expect you to be on the phone with both accounts at the same time.
Employers want competent employees who can give their focus to more than one project and meet multiple deadlines. They want employees who can produce quality work. They want employees who can work quickly but who don't give the impression of being hurried or hassled. You can't give that impression to your employer if you're trying to multitask everything.
So, don't take the article's advice too literally. There may be limited situations where true multitasking is appropriate and even necessary, but what this article is trying to tell you -- albeit using the wrong word -- is that employers want employees who can effectively manage their workload.