There has been a rumor going around asserting that it is “impossible to multi-task.” I suppose a declaration of this kind allows those who aren’t skilled at multitasking to feel triumphant, but very common examples of real life multitasking prove this theory incorrect. If we couldn’t multi-task, then:
- When driving, we couldn’t look both ways and behind us at an intersection, activate a turn signal and apply pressure to the brakes (all within 15 seconds).
- A mother couldn’t hold her child on her back while she walked to the store or while she was making dinner.
- We wouldn’t be able to guide cloth through a sewing machine and watch to ensure the stitching is straight, while also accelerating the pedal that runs the motor.
- Musicians couldn’t sing while they play an instrument, let alone dance while they are doing both.
- A police officer wouldn’t be able to direct traffic and be cognizant of the crowd around him/her.
The point I’m making is that there are degrees of what is possible, practical and necessary. Multitasking is an important skill for many reasons, especially if there is a significant investment in the outcome (e.g., not getting in a car wreck, your child’s safety or perhaps getting paid to perform a service or provide entertainment). If the failure to take command of necessary actions impacts your safety, the safety of others or your livelihood, then multitasking is clearly a problem. Analyzing your steps to determine where the breakdowns occur, and implementing strategies to resolve them, is a better investment of time than arguing a case for why “multitasking isn’t possible.”
Clearly, we don’t want to put ourselves or others at risk. If we can’t look forward as we drive and also check the rearview mirror, that’s a problem. It means we probably shouldn’t be driving. In similar terms, if we are unable to talk on the phone and type simultaneously, then we probably shouldn’t work in a call center. If we lack the ability to carry on a conversation with someone and listen for conversations/noises around us on a playground, then perhaps we shouldn’t be the playground monitor. It doesn’t mean any of the above examples are impossible skills to master, it just means some people shouldn’t be doing them.
If you are currently considering work that requires multitasking, it is critical to practice under the same circumstances to determine if you can do it, before jumping in feet first. Multitasking efficiently and effectively is all relative. To know if you will be successful, it’s imperative to have a clear understanding of the desired outcome. Sometimes accuracy is first and foremost, yet other times, the goal isn’t perfection. If you tend to get caught up in detail and pour over and over information or processes to ensure they are absolutely correct, occupations that demand a high degree of accuracy, such as engineering or accounting, could be a very strong fit. In other situations, where exact detail is valued less, it could cause you to lag behind, miss deadlines, or worse, fail to respond at all in a critical situation requiring an immediate answer.
Sometimes reacting with a reasonable response and following up with an elaborate answer at a more appropriate time is the best course of action at the moment. If a pipe is leaking, it makes more sense to immediately plug the leak with whatever you have on hand until a plumber can be reached, than to stop to determine the pipe size and water flow capacity while the water is rising around your feet. It is important to recognize when the situation demands a change in attention without notice – like answering phones or having your work constantly interrupted to answer co-workers’ questions, a different action is required. A once highly valued skill like accuracy may become a liability when it becomes impossible to perform other requirements.
In a world where more is expected to be done with less, multitasking seems to be a required, if not critical skill, for many jobs. Choose your work (and battles) so you don’t find yourself in a situation that isn’t working for you or your employer. Become aware of how much you can manage at one time, and when challenged, identify ways to improve your responses. Another option is to simply decide to look for other work that is less demanding. The bottom line is that your response is the only thing that can change. Believing that multitasking isn’t possible or necessary might not help you succeed.
Unemployment is the product of a recession, not the cause of it. Unemployment numbers will continue to climb long after the official start of a recession, and typically will take considerable time to correct after the official end of a recession. The very simple and short explanation is that this recession dropped further down than past recessions, and consequently, the correction will take longer. I am not pretending to be an economist or an analyst, but I think these statistics are pretty widely known and accepted.
A deeper issue to examine after the end of a recession is what happens to employment numbers when people who have accepted roles that were less than their former roles (underemployed as opposed to unemployed) make no attempt to plan their way back through their own efforts, and assume the change in the economy will ultimately fix everything. The assumption is that life will get back to “normal” (whatever that is) by magic after the declaration of the end of a recession. The job they took as a barista to “get by” will no longer be necessary and the “good” jobs will open up again.
There is an inherent problem when people won’t take jobs that pay less than what they receive on unemployment without considering the skills they could gain or the contacts they could make to position themselves for the future. They often wait for their dream job to mysteriously appear, and when it doesn’t, they then may accept any job out of shear desperation. Without a plan for how they will get back to where they need to be, the cycle is likely to be repeated. My prediction is that many will find a way to leave these lower level jobs once they earn enough hours to claim unemployment benefits again, assuming it will be easy to find something better. I also predict that unemployment numbers will continue to stay high because the change in the market has been more than just the dip in the economy (production).
The way of doing business has changed in the same span of time the market has fallen. We may be gaining jobs, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to “less competition”, as one might believe. People who assume they will “get back to normal” may be completely out of touch with the new skills required to do their old jobs, or similar jobs, making them less competitive than they are now. The newly trained may also find themselves at the back of the line if they are not currently interning or actively planning their move back into the workplace through networking and research.
In the past many months, as I see money invested in retraining, I am not seeing a decline in competition for the “good” jobs. It appears to me that the number of people missing the experience and practical skills needed to be competitive for the good jobs is staying the same as it was in the middle of the recession. In contrast, those people who took jobs more closely related to their experience, or jobs in lower positions, but in line with what they aspire to do with the intent of growing, are already positioned to get fully back on their feet. People with new skills in a new industry or job function, without prior experience, will often be viewed as having an “entry level” skill set. They may also be faced with the contradiction of appearing “over qualified” due the person’s apparent age and number of years of employment. Unless a dedicated plan is put in place to connect a person to their target roles/companies during the time they are retraining, it is very likely they will be in the same position as they were prior to the retraining.
For those of you who are still struggling to get on track, here are some tips for getting started:
1. Research - Find out what industries are growing, what companies are hiring, and what skills are needed. Investigate work options that may allow you to enter your field in a lower/different position than what your goal is. Learn who you need to know to get a foot in the door in your target organizations and how you can meet them. Identify the contacts you have that can be of assistance in making introductions. Note: this needs to be happening long before you actually discover a position you want to apply for.
2. Assess your status - Learn how far off you are from being competitive in your chosen field or role. Identify what you already have (skills, experience, connections) and what you need to have to be competitive, and chose the path that will most likely lead you to employment in your field. If you are currently working in an unrelated job, identify what you can take away from the experience to add to your value in your chosen field.
3. Plan a course of action - If you are unemployed or underemployed and there is no value to be gained by staying where you are, then it is time to take action to get on the right path. Develop a plan with measurable goals, objectives and timelines for getting you where you want to be. Be realistic about the amount of time it will take to accomplish each objective, and set realistic time frames for larger goals.
4. Develop your network- See #1. Your network needs to be developed before you spot specific positions you are interested in pursuing. By showing genuine interest in advance, developing relationships and forming trusting bonds before you need them, you are much more likely to be referred and highly considered for roles that might be a stretch if you remain an unknown.
5. Don’t give up- Sometimes it is hard to see the forest through the trees. Progression towards a “Plan A” job may not be fast or easily visible. It takes persistence, patience and flexibility. I can assure you that if you stay focused, dedicate the necessary time to work your plan and adjust your goals as needed to respond to market changes, you can find meaningful and satisfying work in spite of a slow economy.
If you are currently under employed and moving towards your target role, please briefly share your thoughts about why you have chosen the path you are on or your strategy for getting where you want to be.