Monday, February 02, 2004

Caution: multitasking can be fuck with you mind

If one more individual at work encourages me to multitask better in order to increase my output, I will let out a shriek that would shatter the windows in the box of a building where I work. That fabeled scene in the movie scanners is nothing compared to what will happen if I am pushed over the edge. Please, no one take this as a sign that I am capable of extreme violence at work... I am simply using a figurative description of what I feel like doing when I have corporate-speak pushed on me mindlessly by the robots I work with.

For the past week I've been doing some reading research on the effects of the over-use of multitasking. Perhaps because I'm tired of being fed that same line by the management experts and gurus at work who embrace the practice of multitasking as a necessary function of corporate life. Shameless, how I can lambast my workplace within the safe (seeming) confines of this log.

Countless articles and documents at work extoll the virtue of being able to get the most output out of one's time by focusing on doing more than one task at once. The whole philosophy of time management at our company is based the idea that you must get the most out of employees by insure that they don't work by the 80/20 rule (which maintains that in a normal situation 80% of all work is done in 20% of the time- this according to a University of Chicago study. I have to say I knew that my alma mater would again impact my life in an irritatingly messed up way, and I have never been a huge fan of the major tenets of economic thought that have emerged from there either). Instead, our company insists that we as good employees should work to maximize the use of that other 80%. Multitasking allows us to exploit that other 80% in ways we never dreamed of.

In my own experience I've seen how poorly I perform when I feel pressured to multitask for a good portion of my day. I'd often feel drained and demoralized because I wasn't getting as much accomplished as I wanted to. I would feel inadequate or embarrassed when simple grammatical mistakes would emerge in my work or even worse if I was writing communication I was not getting my idea across adequately. On top of this I would feel incapable of coming up with new solutions. On top of this the my frustration was fed by my fear that I won't perform well in my job to make the the growing domestic 'cut.'

During the past two or so years that I have been working here at "blankity-blank" I felt so creatively bankrupt that I couldn't come up with a simple paragraph explaining what I'd been working on for the last few months. When I attempted to write for myself at home, I found that I couldn't even put sentences together on a page. I really began to see and feel that the stress from work as well as the way my mind was being used was having a detrimental affect on my creativity. I fell demoralized, I felt stripped and emptied. Then along with my frustration with this, I experienced feelings of inadequacy. I began to believe that I wasn't capable of writing even on a rudimentary level (some folks who read this my still draw that conclusion). I don't really care. This blog will provide the rehab for my creativity. I'm not claiming to be a protege of humor or writing. I have no delusions about the wide expanse I need to traverse to achieve at writing and even creative thinking.

Within the past few weeks or since I started keeping this log, I began to notice myself relaxing. I didn't feel so tight in the 'lower regions.' (I'm throughroughly convinced that most of the people who work here suffer from rectal rigormortis). Writing in this log has served as a laxative and remedy to the constipation I've been feeling for the past few years. When you work in the confines of a box (literally); when you feel forced to maximize the use of your time by doing and focusing on multiple tasks or items; and when you work under pressure at something that you don't really enjoy, there's a good chance that you won't perform at your best. I think I might be able to pull of the first two items if I actually enjoyed what I did and felt that I was working for a group that inspired me. I've been slowly coming to the conclusion that I've been working at this job mainly for 'security' reasons. And while I even have the luxury of security at this point... I have to admit that working in this environment isn't healthy for me in the long run.

From my reading and research on the effects of multi-tasking, I garnered the sense that this anti-multitaskitis wasn't a unique just to me. I saw countless articles, references, testimonies from others who were feeling the same sort of frustration with this necessity of office living. Many of the articles and studies I encountered all seem to come to the same conclusion. Excessive multitasking can reduce your performance rather than enhance it. "Multitasking makes it harder to concentrate for extended periods."

Some related readings:
Weil, M.M. & Rosen, L.D. (1998). TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @WORK @HOME @PLAY. John Wiley & Sons.

Article: "Multitasking Madness"
http://www.contextmag.com/setFrameRedirect.asp?src=/archives/199809/InnerGameOfWork.asp

Article: CNN.com "Multitasking is Counter-productive."
http://www.cnn.com/2001/CAREER/trends/08/05/multitasking.focus/

I will add more to this list...

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