The current trend of online virtual work environment allows us to perform multiple tasks at the same time. You could have multiple applications open on your computer, tempting you to work on all of them at the same time. Is it really productive for us humans to perform multiple activities simultaneously?
Imagine a common high pressured work day environment, when deadlines loom large and a supervisor asks his worker to finish multiple tasks by the end of the day, when in normal course of work the same set of tasks would have required double the amount of time to achieve the desired level of quality in work output. The worker tries to multitask and rushes to complete his tasks because he cannot say ‘No’ to the supervisor. The work output is completed and delivered on time, but in this rush, quality of the work output has suffered.
In the aftermath, when the client discovers less than expected level of quality, or unexpected defects in the work output, further rework is needed. The result is additional costs, reduced margins and a dissatisfied customer.
So, why would anyone not understand the limits of human multitasking capabilities? We are different from machines. We design machines to automate, multitask and execute our activities. It is an error, for us to assume the multitasking role of computers.
If we are aware of our own limits for the sake of quality of our work output, we need to focus on only one task at a time, and delegate the rest to others, either machines or other humans.
The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) published by PMI (Project Management Institute) lists two techniques for Schedule Compression, that can be used when deadlines are just around the corner.
The first technique is Crashing, that involves engaging additional resources to speed up execution of tasks without sacrificing quality.
The second technique is Fast Tracking, that involves execution of those tasks in parallel, that do not have a sequential relationship. Of course, each task is performed by dedicated workers, assigned to that task.
PMI does not encourage the execution of multiple tasks simultaneosly by the same worker, because the quality of work output is paramount. Rework and fixing of defects in the work output is much more expensive.
So, the next time you are asked by your supervisor to multitask, remind him about the perils of doing that.
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