Friday, September 15, 2006

Cubicle Culture: Why Multi-Tasking is Bad

(Hat tip: Dad! I think that's his first ever.)

Orthomom, you listening? (Kidding. I had to pick someone, and for some reason, OM came to mind first. She strikes me as the multi-tasking type.)

This article is probably a fitting one, as this is the last normal working day in which I am still a free man... it's interesting to see what is or is not a good way of working, though I'll likely stick with what works for me to some extent. Anyways... here's an excerpt:

Multitasking, a term cribbed from computers, is an information age creed that, while almost universally sworn by, is more rooted in blind faith than fact. It's the wellspring of office gaffes, as well as the stock answer to how we do more with less when in fact we're usually doing less with more. What now passes for multitasking was once called not paying attention.

Employers continue to seek out jugglers despite decades of research showing that humans aren't great multitaskers. (And in the case of distracted driving, we're downright dangerous.)

"Multitasking doesn't look to be one of the great strengths of human cognition," says James C. Johnston, a research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "It's almost inevitable that each individual task will be slower and of lower quality."

I still remember a Hagar the Horrible cartoon from when I was a child: Lucky Eddie walks in and tells Hagar that he heard that people can't do two things at once and do them both well. Hagar laughs and says "Ha! I'm sitting, and I'm eating!" A second later, his chair breaks and he falls to the floor. For some reason, this always stuck with me, and I have always felt it to be true: I've never seen someone do two things at once at their optimal level.

People often think I'm a multi-tasker myself, but I have realized that it's not really true. I do tend to do a lot of things in a short amount of time, but I'm not usually doing them all at once. More often, I'm doing one after the other in rapid succession after setting them up the way I like. In accounting, this is often exactly how things need to be done, so that should work well.

I start work this Monday at a large accounting firm in midtown Manhattan, beginning with two weeks of orientation. We don't have cubicles - we have "pods". The hope is to actually get one, and not be stuck working in abandoned conference rooms or the like. Orientation is not at the office, but for one week at a locale in the city, and the second week at a hotel in a different area. The second week is the national week of orientation, and unfortunately is being held in the NY area and not somewhere like, oh, say Orlando, where it was last year. Ah well.

Ah, the working world... I'm actually looking forward to this. And not just because of the pay. :)