The first published use of the word “multitask” appeared in an IBM paper in 1965, describing the “capabilities of a computer to apparently process several tasks concurrently”. The term has since been applied to human tasks.
In an office environment, multi-tasking is more challenging than juggling several balls. The key difference being, a juggler decides when and how many balls to toss up, while in a professional environment, especially at the start of your career, this decision is often taken by others.
4 aspects that helped me in managing multiple assignments proficiently
Discipline of accepting work
Before you even think of methods to effectively multitask, it is imperative to know the discipline of accepting work. In the first few weeks in office, there is an inherent desire to accept as much work as possible, in the quest to create a good impression. This is practically a land mine.
Few cardinal principles of accepting work
• First understand the scope of work. The more detailed are your discussions, the greater the probability of a smooth execution
• Based on the scope of work, try and gauge the time you may need to deliver (time estimation gets easier with experience)
• If you have the option, try and do more work with a lesser set of individuals. It is easier to multitask with one individual.
• Last, but potentially the most important, learn to say “NO”
Several people shy away from asking questions while accepting work, with the fear it may reflect on their capability. In reality, there are several instances wherein the delegator may not have complete clarity on the deliverable and your questions may only bring clarity and more efficiency. So when in doubt simply ask.
Focus on the execution
Have a sharp focus on the execution. The key mantra ; give undivided attention to the specific work on hand.
Allocate time to the specific deliverable and within the time frame, do not allow any other disturbances to creep in.
In a crunch time, disconnecting from the digital world and finding a less populated corner could significantly help.
Increase of the virtual network has meant that we are connected to the world at large, at all times. The internet allows you to chat, shop, research, listen to music, all at one time. In several cases, it is a matter of attention deficiency or sheer addiction. Curiously, hosts of start-ups have picked this up as a key problem area and are working on creating uni-tasking solutions.
Being conscious of the time is a crux of multi-tasking. Let’s do a small exercise to understand this better. For two minutes simply look at the symbols shown below.
¿ β ∞ α µ
How long it takes before you started reading this line. In most cases, it would be less than two minutes. Staring for two minutes makes you feel as if the time has come to a halt. For those who have done planks while working on your abs, will identify with this. Time is a relative concept. The more you increase its awareness, the more time you have on hand, realizing this fact could go a long way in increasing your efficiency.
Maintaining a TO DO
Having your entire work load or Things to be Done (TO DO), however small or big, on one piece of paper helps tremendously in planning, organizing and managing your work. The best time to create your TO DO is either at the start of the day or alternatively at the end of the day, just before you wind up. Not only it helps your better organise, the TO DO list is a great tool to have handy during discussions, to protect yourself from being dumped with excess work.
A last brick on the block is to ensure least surprises. In case of any expected time over run, it should be immediately communicated. Neither take an unreasonable deadline nor take any deadline lightly. Do not set or change the priority independently; setting priority is the prerogative of your senior. This is very important especially when you are working with multiple seniors.
To conclude, multitasking is one of the key skill sets you need to acquire right at the start of your career. There is no magic formula to get it right and be prepared that there will several instances wherein things may not go as per planned. Having clarity on your task, being conscious of time, maintaining a TO DO and being upfront with your communication will ensure more often than not, you will come on top.
Written bySanjay Chakrabarti
Post an 18 year consulting stint with Ernst & Young / Arthur Andersen, Sanjay took an entrepreneurial plunge in January 2015 through www.tag8.in . tag8's technology-enabled tagging offers solutions for facilitating tracking and returning lost valuables, enabling Warranty Management, and undertaking Asset and Resource Management. Sanjay is also involved in other startups as angel investor and mentor.
He has been a guest lecturer at various schools such as NYU, ISB, Emory, SP Jain.
His blog, startingat40blog shares experiences to help youngsters smoothly transition from being a student into a corporate role