THE ART OF MULTITASKING

I work for Philips Healthcare, a business of Philips that sells medical equipment to hospitals. To build these products, we follow Agile Methodology. Some of the software engineers might be aware of this term. This way of work primarily focusses on collaborative work which means the entire team to get together to complete a particular task which is the highest priority. And then move on to next task. This means that every team member is capable of doing any work with equal competence – which is never true. Each person has his/her own competency and preference for the kind of work. So, keeping this in mind – a term becomes very important in Agile methodology “WIP”. WIP stands for “Work in Progress”. It is a number that defines that at any given point of time how many work items is the team busy with. For a team of 5 people, WIP should never be more than 7 or 8. Again it depends on the competency of the team members and the complexity of the work items.

There are various case studies that prove that if WIP is too low – the team has too little work and is demotivated. If WIP is too high – the team is too overloaded and have to switch the context so much that their productivity declines. WIP has to be just right. It should keep the team busy, interested in work with optimum load and highest productivity. One of my roles in my job is to keep the WIP in the limit, not just of the whole team but also of each team member. No team member should ever feel that he/she is too overloaded with work or is getting too confused because of handling too many things.

Sorry, for too many corporate jargons from Software development. When I was asked to write on this topic, the first word that struck me was “WIP”. When I took over this role and understood this concept, I attempted to apply this also to my personal life. Yes, I multi-task and sometimes it is too much. “What is my current WIP? Is it optimum?” These two questions usually bring me back to the reality.

For example – currently, I am writing this article while sitting on a crowded bus going from work to home. My WIP is 2 – because I have to think and write this article on time and I also have to keep my eyes on the road to make sure that I don’t miss my stop. This WIP works because one is an active task (writing) and another one is a passive one (keeping an eye on the road). While multitasking, there can always be only one active task. It is not recommended at all to do more than one active task at the same time. Although we could do one active and multiple passive tasks at the same time. Taking the same example – if I switch on the music on my phone it would become another passive task. If while writing on the bus, I also start talking to my mom on phone – will it work? No. Because talking and writing will both be active tasks. I will have to stop writing now if my mom calls me on my phone.

Now the catch is that sometimes an active task slowly becomes a passive one. For example – for me driving is an active task because I am not a very experienced driver. I cannot even listen to music while driving because it distracts me from the road. However, my husband can also talk on the phone while driving (yes, it is illegal I know – but he can). This is because driving has become a passive task for him because of his practice. Similarly, for a lot of women cooking becomes a passive task. We just are so experienced in this area that it doesn’t take our conscious mind to be completely empty to do the task of cooking. At that stage, we can also combine cooking with teaching our child (a lot of us do that).

Problem with multi-tasking is that sometimes we make a task passive when it deserves to be active. I realized this when I learnt about “Mindful eating”. Mindful eating is a concept which emphasizes the need to be completely aware of what is happening inside our mouth and body while we are eating. Ideally, we should chew every morsel of the food at least 20 times. We should take in the colour, taste, smell of the food completely before swallowing it (eat with all 5 senses). We should listen to our stomach when it signals us to stop eating. All these can happen only if we stop making eating a passive task. However, I know that eating is the first task that we learn to make passive. Eating while watching TV, eating while working, eating while chatting with people. When eating becomes a passive task, we do mindless eating which is the primary cause of overeating and leads to all the side effects related to it.

Another task that we must not multitask is spending time with our loved ones. I am sure most of us are guilty of this. When the child is explaining what happened at school – we are checking our Instagram feed. When our spouse is complaining about his/her headache – we are focusing on the TV. When mom is talking, we are also busy with our heads on the laptop.

Multi-tasking is not bad. It just has some rules.

Rule no. 1 – Never try to do more than one active task at any given point of time

Rule no. 2 – Carefully choose which task is supposed to be active and which can be passive

That’s all. And you will master the art of multitasking.

IS MULTI-TASKING REALLY GOOD?

Multi-tasking, this word sounds great. It is carrying out more than one work at the same time. By this way of working we can do so much in a lesser time. Our ancestors used to say, at a time only one work should be performed. They said this so that we could concentrate solely on one work at a time. But in today’s life no one has enough time.

Since my childhood I always witnessed my mother doing so many things simultaneously. The moment she left her bed in the morning to the moment she went back to bed at night, she handled so many tasks at the same time. At first, I used to think she got some special powers, similar to what I saw in cartoons and superhero movies. But with passing years I saw not only my mother, but every woman on earth is capable of doing more than one task at a time.

I used to think how it could be possible because we humans got only one body and one brain. It really amazed me to divide my attention to more than one work. My mother is a working woman. She wakes up early and since then she puts her hands into numerous work. And those works are accomplished very well. But sometimes, she wouldn’t get the desired result. Like if she is cooking food and teaching my brother at the same time then probably she would burn her hand or some ingredients would be more or less in the food. She very well knows if she will take multiple works in her hand, then there’s chance of some mistakes but still she never thinks twice before being multi-tasking woman. May be, because she has got so many responsibilities that has to be done. Not only this, we must have seen in advertisement that there’s a family. All of them are busy in other works whilst eating. Okay they may be having some really important work. In this way they don’t get to interact with family and they tend to drift away.

Whenever I see my mom, she never shows her tiredness. And I am sure all women do the same. But handling so many works at the same time requires too much effort and people tend to get tired easily. I can say this because I have experienced it. It was my cousin’s wedding and as we know, we have so many rituals and customs in wedding. Therefore, I had so many works to be done. I was bridesmaid; I had to look after guests, ask them for food and refreshments and had to see many other things. The bride (my cousin) asked for me for every little thing. Though, I managed to do everything so well but after marriage ceremony was over, I wanted to take some rest. My body was paining too badly. Still there were so many relatives and guests in the house, so I couldn’t take rest. I felt as if there was no strength left in my body. I desperately wanted to sleep.

So, what I felt, even if we are multi-tasking but our body needs some rest and it can’t be multi-tasking every time. It is our physical need to take rest. Yes of course, multi-tasking can be important at times when so many works have to be completed in a very limited time period. We achieve this by the help of our will-power and inner spirit. But we should not neglect the condition of our body. Because if our body is tired then we won’t be able to give our best in whatever we do. Being multi-tasking is not bad but sometimes it can be really bad.

A MOM IS A MULTI TASKER

I didn’t realise my super capabilities of multi-tasking until I became a mom. Here I am quoting super capabilities not because I want to boast, but because I think the supernova powers of a woman come out when she becomes a mother.

My hubby & I used to live in Chandigarh when my elder son was born. After few months of support from my moms (my mom & my MIL), we were on our own. With a kid in the house, things get easily done when there are two people, but when you are alone in the house, it’s really difficult. The biggest trouble comes when the clothes in the machine are waiting to be hung to dry, you have to prepare meals and also entertain your kiddo as well.

It’s not that difficult as it sounds, because I have done it. With my son in baby carrier, I used to chop vegetables, sing him lullabies, hang the laundry, put him to sleep and do a lot more. It reminds me of the jumping on the rocks game that I used to watch in Takeshi’s Castle. My situation was similar. Hop on to one task, then other, come back to previous one and so on.

With years, my multi-tasking skills improved. I became a working mom too. So, there was a time when I used to feed my younger son, help the elder one with his school assignments, do my work related stuff and reply to the messages and emails, all at the same time.

My every weekday morning (I am sure many other moms have the same schedule)starts in preparing tea for us two-me and my hubby, simultaneously making breakfast for my elder son, also for my preschooler, if he wakes up early and preparing for the tiffins for both of them. And in this multi-tasking, if the tea boils out of the vessel (which is once in 50 times), I believe I can handle multi-tasking.

My hubby sometimes says that I don’t prioritize my work and hence open too many tabs of chores. But, I keep telling him- that’s how I manage work- I multi task, because if I don’t, I will end up in slogging myself throughout the day.

I believe the other name of being a mom is a multi-tasker, at least I feel so, because the amount of work the moms do, no one else does. Agree with me? Happy multi-tasking then!

PRIORITIZE TO MULTITASK

The most difficult task of all, according to me, is time management.

Just 24 hrs in a day, of which 7-8 hrs, I spend sleeping, and out of the remaining time I tend to do so many things.

So, the big question is, how am I, going to squeeze cooking, cleaning, playing, studying, writing, family, friends, etc., in those 17 hours?!!! And I’m sure many of you wonderful readers can relate to this situation.

So, in such cases, one tends to multitask. Some can do it with great ease while others struggle with just the idea of it.

I’m the former kind. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, it’s more difficult than it seems to be. But still I manage to wash clothes, clean the vessels and cook simultaneously, while I was on the phone with my dear friend. Hence, the tasks which were going to take up 2-3 hours, when done separately, took only 1½ hours, multitasking.

Now just the other day, as usual, I was all worked up, running in and out of the kitchen, supposedly showing off my multitasking skills, and trying to push my limits, when I got hurt badly and spent more than double the time in recovering from it.

Sometimes, multitasking helps to keep the mind busy and keeps it away from pondering on unnecessary problems. All you can think about while juggling between tasks is ‘what to do next‘.. rather than let your mind lingering over less important or matters of nil importance.

So for people facing such problems, where they tend to float away from reality, time and again, shuffling between tasks come in handy.

I’m neither in favour of it nor against it.

In some situations, it helps, where 100% of your attention is not needed. Many household tasks don’t need your sole engrossment and your concentration can be divided.

But a few major issues like family, job, studying…all these need all the raptness possible. As these are the priorities in our lives. They need our sole discretion. Multitasking in these situations brings out the worst possible outcomes.

All I’m saying is that everything has its pros and cons, and so does this. One just needs to prioritize, categorize and only then multi task.