This week, the conversation centers around the overall importance of time-management skills and whether or not multi-tasking is an effective time-management strategy in the workforce.
Our featured guest is Dr. Eddith Dashiell. Dashiell is the Associate Director and Associate Professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She has been at the school since 1992.
4/8/14 – Interviewed by Scott Proietti
Dr. Eddith Dashiell (Pictured Below)
1. Do you think multitasking is an effective time-management strategy? Why or why not?
Dr. Eddith Dashiell: Not anymore. Back in “my day,” multitasking meant doing two things at once: talking on the telephone while cooking dinner; watching your children (or babysitting) while folding laundry; grading one student’s paper while having a telephone conversation with a different student about his/her graded assignment; listening to ONLY the radio while doing homework; taking careful notes in class while listening to the lecture.
Today’s new technology has given us this false sense of control that we can do three or four things at once—and perform all of them equally well: texting in class while pretending to be listening to the lecture and taking careful notes; driving , texting, listening to music, and listening to the GSP at the same time; running on the bike path with music blasting in your ear buds but still thinking you are able to pay attention to any dangers around you (car horns, bicyclists; strollers; other runners or walkers).
There have been too many accidents and deaths because of those individuals who thought they could multitask while driving two tons of metal at 70 mph.
2. In your career, have you found it to be more effective to work on one task at a time, or try to do bits and pieces of multiple tasks at a time?
ED: With the overwhelming influx of new and always changing technology, I must focus on one task at a time. If I don’t, I make mistakes that can cause additional problems, miscommunication, hurt feelings—–thus actually wasting, instead of saving time. Today, each “task” requires knowledge of a different computer software program. I use so many brain cells keeping track of each new program along with the endless “updates” to those programs that I don’t have much time to think and reflect. I cannot just answer questions off the top of my head with simplistic language using incomplete sentences or the abbreviations and acronyms reserved for text messages. To communicate well, you cannot multitask.
In “my day” when I wanted to communicate, I had only a few options: face-to-face; telephone, or letter. Today how we communicate with each other requires having to access to number a social media outlets and Internet programs: email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. The list continues to grow; I can’t keep track.
3. What is your “secret” to effective time-management? In other words, what do you do on a daily basis to effectively manage all of your tasks and avoid stress?
ED: Lists! I have lists for every single task in my job description. I wear several different hats in my position since I am an administrator in addition to teaching college-level courses. I have lists of lists. Sometimes I have to make a list of tasks that I need to finish in a one-or-two hour time period. I put reminders in my Smartphone for things I use to be able to remember without any assistance. I don’t blame my age for my lack of memory. I blame all the different types of technology I am expected to learn and use for my job. The focus of my job has become so technology driven that there’s the expectation that I should be able to do more work because technology is there to make my job easier. It hasn’t. Because my jobs are so detail-oriented, I must focus on one task as a time to avoid having to re-do any project because of the errors I made while trying to do several other things at the same time. That is not an efficient use of my time.
4. Our generation is seen as very “multi-task” oriented–always trying to do two or more things at once (check twitter while writing notes) or (doing homework during free time at a job) etc. Do you think this is a negative or positive trait of our generation? Why or why not?
ED: I think it is negative. No one—regardless of age—can do a variety of tasks with any degree of quality or being consistently free from errors. At a very basic level, I think it is rude and unprofessional to be texting during class or a meeting when the texts have absolutely nothing to do with the lecture or the meeting topic. I even put in my syllabus a request not to text in my class, but I think a lot of students don’t even take the time to read the syllabus thoughtfully enough to get to that section of my syllabus or take me seriously. I have yet to be convinced that students can provide quality answers on exams or in writing papers when they are doing 4-5 other things at once. I can tell by the quality of the answers I get on assignments whether a student has put serious thought or applied their critical thinking skills in completing that assignment or if that student just rushed through it because his/her time was split among 3-4 other tasks. There is an old saying: “Jack of all trades, but master of none.”
5. What would be your best advice to job-seekers who have been out of the workforce for a fair amount of time regarding multi-tasking skills and maintaining an effective time-management strategy?
ED: Job seekers should have an understanding about how technology is taking over our job descriptions to the point that knowing the right combination of computer software packages is a must. Knowing how to use that technology effectively, and then how to adapt when that technology changes are important skills to have in finding and keeping a job.
6. Do you see the workforce in our country being very multi-task oriented in the future? Why or why not?
ED: As long as we are bombarded with different types of technology, our society will continue to be very multi-task oriented. As we continue to multi-task, there will be no room, time or tolerance for deep thinking and reflection. (I find that disappointing.) We will always be reacting to information instead of trying to fully understand the long-range effects of our decision making. The growing pressure to multitask leaves us with little room to be proactive. We are allowing the technology to control our content, which I believe is weakening our ability to think critically and understand deeply (not to mention ruining journalism as we used to know it). Life and work have become more like a video game that changes every 6-8 months with each new edition. There are days when I wish we could hit “re-set” and slow everything down.
Do you find multi-tasking to be useful in the working environment? Why or why not?
What piece of advice offered by Dr. Dashiell do you find to be the most beneficial, as far as applying it to the working environment?
Feel free to comment on either question above or pose your own comment/question.
Here are some additional tips I would offer to help make multi-tasking more productive in the workplace:
1. Set aside time twice a day to check and respond to emails. Always stopping to respond to emails immediately can distract you from making significant progress on detailed-oriented projects.
2. Take some time to move around about five minutes every hour. Taking a quick walk (even if it is just through the building) can help you clear your mind and regain focus on the item on your to-do list to tackle next. Don’t ever feel like you must stay “glued” to your desk.
3. Just because today’s technology enables you to receive requests and questions faster, do not feel compelled to answer these requests and questions quickly. Some responses require careful thought and research and should not be a “gut reaction.” That “gut reaction” could result in more work or damage control later.
4. Compose detailed emails or sensitive emails in a word-processing document that you later can copy and paste into a standard email message. Many misunderstandings or miscommunications have resulted in hitting send too soon without carefully double checking facts, dates, and grammar and punctuation errors. Having the ability to think about, revise, and carefully structure email messages may seem to take a lot of time initially, but will be an important time saver in the future.
Dr. D, I completely agree with your suggestion, “Set aside time twice a day to check and respond to emails. Always stopping to respond to emails immediately can distract you from making significant progress on detailed-oriented projects.”
It’s important to keep up with your emails on a daily basis, but if you check it on a 1-to-1 basis, you may forget which emails you have actually read or received throughout the course of a day. You may also forget to respond to each email. You never know which email may contain information about a job offer/opportunity so be careful when checking/responding to emails!