Monday, July 03, 2000

Tips on multitasking

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The pager is humming away. A telefax is pumping out sheets until its paper tray goes dry, and then it's red-light time for the fax. The phone rings incessantly and that, in turn, clogs the voice-mail folder.

        E-mails lurk like land mines — each demanding your attention — and in the meantime, real-life work projects go into the “pending” basket.

        These days, a job is a lot like sorting eels with your toes: It's not impossible, but it can be a challenge. Experts have a name for this malady, the notion that workers can always do more and do it better and faster than ever before.

        While “multitasking” sums up what's going on — handling multiple jobs at the same time — the phrase does not describe the kind of stress that juggling jobs can create.

        Because if you're doing too many things at once, then how can you be doing any of them well?

        Joan H. Linder, president of the People Problem Solvers Inc., a Middletown-based firm that specializes in program development, training and career development, tries to maintain a system for her multitasking days.

        “I'm not real big on lots of Post-Its around, but I am conscientious on my Day-Timers and writing down things that I need to remember,” she said.

        Some other tips:

        • Keep near your computer terminal a “hot file” stack of work that needs immediate attention.

        • Rifle through the hot file at least a couple of times each day from top to bottom to find those items that have cooled off.

        • File all other items to keep the top of the desk clear.

        • When in doubt, throw it out. Toss old memos or reports.

        “My experience in working with people is that some are able to multitask, or are at least more at ease,” she said. “Others like to be deeply focused, and if interrupted, what happens is they tend to become more forgetful or don't remember the things they have left undone.”

        Electronic clutter is more challenging than paperwork distractions, said Joyce Gioia, co-author of How to Become an Employer of Choice (Oakhill Press; $30) and a certified management consultant based in Greensboro, N.C.

        “If something has no immediate value,” she said, “delete it immediately.”

        She also suggested:

        • That voice mail be saved if only to ensure that you have written down the right return telephone number.

        • Give out pager and cell phone numbers sparingly. “Reserve those numbers for people whose messages are wanted and needed,” she said.

        • Steer clear of instant messaging over the Internet. “It interrupts your flow of work,” she said. “It competes for your share-of-mind.”


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