Managers and the Myth of Multitasking

For decades, the ability to multitask has been proclaimed as one of the key factors that delineates an excellent manger from a merely average one. The concept has been so ingrained and valued in business culture that the word almost invariably creeps into every resume, report or handbook created by a company committee or employee.

More recently, a new school of thought has developed around the concept. Many business analysts have now become skeptical of the concept as it has the potential to demoralize managers and may lead to a pronounced decrease in managerial productivity.

The Myth

While many managers can compartmentalize their activities and seemingly multitask efficiently, there is a limit at which everyone is overwhelmed. Unfortunately for these managers and their companies, there is an inherent self-defeating aspect to this fact.

Companies, in the search for ever greater efficiencies pile task upon task on their managers. In their efforts to complete these responsibilities, managers attempt to multitask. While most managers can keep up for a time, many companies eventually saturate the ability of their managers and, basically, overwhelm them with work.

The upshot is that every manager, almost without exception, is pushed to his “multitasking” limit on a continual basis. To cope, numerous managers may resort to simply reporting that a task is completed. Not only does this misreporting reverberate throughout an organization with disturbing productivity results but the process also demoralizes an otherwise good manager.

A Loss of Focus Means Lowered Productivity

Simply put, people are most effective when they can concentrate on a single task. The world of business does not always afford this luxury but providing the proper resources and allowing enough time for tasks to be completed is a necessary first step in increasing productivity. Procedures will be completed more thoroughly and with fewer errors.

Undoubtedly, there will be times when a more pressing issue arises and a task must be interrupted. Unfortunately, this interruption has unintended consequences. It simply takes more time to drop and then resume a task than to complete it in one sitting. In other words, the recovery process to rectify a missed or forgotten task takes more time than completing the task in the first place. The strains that this process places on productivity are evident.

What to Do? - Achieving Mindfulness

In an ideal world, managers would schedule time and be left comfortably ensconced in their offices to deal with scheduling, performance issues or any of the multitude of other tasks that they complete on a daily basis. It is unreasonable to assume that this situation can exist for very long or on a continual basis.

Many business consultants are now pushing the concept of “mindfulness.” Taken from an ancient Buddhist technique and further refined by modern psychology, the idea as it relates to business is to deal with the present moment as effectively as possible. Instead of diversifying your efforts across a wide array of tasks, simply concentrate on one, finish it and move on to the next.

Obviously, there is a wide disconnect between the ideal of this practice and the practical application. Still, a variety of resources, from the simple “to do” list through flowcharts, to company procedure manuals; exist to help keep a manager on track in a specific task when he is interrupted.

While these tools are valuable, the key to solving the problem of interruptions is being able to conveniently and correctly note where in the process the manager is interrupted. It is a problem that is ideally suited for a solution with an automated process.

A Human Resource Solution

Most small business owners and company executives would readily admit that their employees are their most important asset. As such, the implementation of company HR policy and procedures is one of the most important functions of a manager. Indeed, it is the one area that should not be implemented in an arbitrary or incomplete manner as the repercussions can potentially threaten the viability of the company.

A Human Resource Information System (HRIS) can easily and efficiently relieve your managers of some of their various HR duties. In addition, an HRIS is an excellent gatekeeper and monitor of the progress of various HR processes. For instance, it can help a manger keep track of the status of a new hire, a trainee or the counseling stage of a problem employee.
While the system cannot replace a manager nor even completely eliminate the multitasking phenomenon, it can provide convenient stopping points in a particular HR task so that the manager can effectively deal with a more pressing one. The manager can then return at their leisure to complete the previous task without losing his place or his focus. In short, an HRIS can facilitate the mindfulness process while still allowing a manager to multitask to some degree.

About the Author
Carolyn Sokol writes about issues that may affect small businesses such as human resources, HR management software, and HRIS systems. She is a founder of and contributor to, both of which help match businesses to the right HR or payroll service provider for their particular needs. Her background is in marketing and communications, employee education and training, development of policies and procedures and the ongoing delivery of outstanding customer service.