What Really is Multitasking?

Most people think of multitasking as a symptom of the Information Age, the irresistible distractions of smartphones, email, real time stock quotes, and the Web being such that we can’t stay on task for more than seconds at a time. But when economists speak of multitasking, they’re talking about jobs that have multiple components to them – that is, just about any job at all. This presents a challenge to motivating and evaluating employees. Those on receiving end of performance evaluations will devote themselves to the tasks that are evaluated while ignoring those that aren’t. If what gets measured is what gets managed, then what gets managed is what gets done. – Fisman and Sullivan, 2013


One thought on “What Really is Multitasking?

  1. I take exception to the Fisman and Sullivan quote on Multitasking on a single point. Multi-tasking does not, in itself, create challenges in Performance Evaluation. It is true that what matters gets measured and what is measured gets done. However, levels of supervision and management above us in the organization really get to determine what matters and what must be done in terms of our work focus and output. As multi-taskers we need only “up manage” to ensure we are doing what matters most to those who will assess our performance. Ask them what matters to them, in what priority. Then, periodically “check-in” to see if you are meeting their expectations. Help them manage and evaluate you. I learned this early in my career. In my first assignment as an Assistant Hospital Administrator, I was excited to receive my first annual performance evaluation, but was sorely disappointed when it was just average. I believed I had done an exceptional job, working my fingers to the bone and I told the CEO just that. He agreed. “Ed you are doing a lot. You are just not doing the things that are most important to me, and to the hospital.” After I recovered from my shock, I resolved to do two things. One, I always ask my boss (mostly a Board of Directors now) what they have as priorities and how they expect me to respond to them. I go so far as to ask them how they will measure my performance on each priority. Then, I ask them “What matters most to you? If I can’t get it all done, what do you want to see done most?” Two, even if I am on an annual performance evaluation schedule, I ensure I “up manage” into a quarterly evaluation. I simply ask, “How am I doing relative to the things that you, the Board, have prioritized as mattering most? Should I be aware of any change that has occurred in what matters most to you?” This allows me to make critical course corrections. As leaders, we multi-task everyday and expect others to do the same. Everybody has a boss and the boss decides the quality of our performance. Somebody is holding them accountable for what matters, and they will likewise hold us accountable for those things. Thanks, Dr. Ed

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