Image [cc] fraggy

We live in a time where most people are not only doing their job, but they are also doing the job of someone that retired, got laid off, left and that position was never filled. Many of us talk about this as “the other hat that I wear at work.” Some would describe this as efficiency or increased worker productivity, and that’s true… to a point. In reality, what it means is that people are multitasking their work, and the typical results are that both jobs get half the attention they really need, and efficiency and productivity actually take a hit.

Training is probably one of the biggest victims in this environment. Go ahead and schedule a voluntary training session on a new resource and see who shows up, who leaves early, and who cancels at the last minute because “an emergency” project just landed on their desks. Send out an email with information on a new product that is available to your firm, and ask people to test it out and give you feedback. If you get more than the sound of crickets chirping in the background, you are doing well.

When people finally need something that you’ve been asking them to use, review, or get training on, you usually get a look from them like they’ve no idea what you’re talking about, or give you that “It’s an Emergency!!” plea, along with the “I’ll take a look at it when I have time” answer.

It’s enough to make you want to post this sign outside your door:

Of course, you can’t do that… otherwise you’ll be let go and one of your poor co-workers will have to take on the two jobs you are currently handling.

So how do you handle the issue of creating an environment where workers are better prepared, trained, and understand how to use the right resources for the project at hand? It’s a frustratingly hard question to answer. For most of us, we keep slogging through and take our victories where we can get them. We find opportunities to plant the seeds of telling people in the hallways, break rooms and elevators by saying to them, “you know, we have a resource that would make that project go a lot easier… how about I come by your office and show you.”

There is low-hanging fruit to gather in this environment, but there’s not a lot of it. At some point you have to step back and realize that you simply cannot reach everyone. It’s probably the hardest decision that many of us have to make, and that is, when do you stop? When do you tell yourself that some people simply won’t take the time to break away from their “emergency projects” to learn of a new (or existing) resource that would end up saving them time and effort? Unfortunately, we can’t keep banging our heads against the wall and expect that it will do any good. Strike a balance of gathering the low-hanging fruit, and the occasional victories of pulling in those hard to reach people. Don’t give up on trying to reach people, but don’t waste your time and efforts on those that ignore you time and time again, either.

  • Tony Chan

    Some time ago I read Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and learned that one of the ways to stop banging your head against the wall (at work or at home) is to learn how to effectively sort things into the "Circle of Influence" and "Circle of Concern".

    Below is an excerpt from

    "Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about: health, children, problems at work. Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern–things over which they have little or no control: the national debt, terrorism, the weather. Gaining an awareness of the areas in which we expend our energies in is a giant step in becoming proactive."

    At work, I assess which "circle" do the particular practice groups, individuals, and departments fall into and focus my energy on the ones that fall into the circle of influence. That's not to say I ignore the ones that are in the realm of the circle of concern since occasional inroads (friendly collaboration) can be made.

    I believe the bigger the organization the more essential it is to follow the "Circle" concept.

  • At some point in my career, I have actually experienced this. It was totally fine at first, I just thought I can practice being a Jack of all trades with this and it will help me in the long run. However, it did took toll on my productivity I had to ask help eventually. You cannot do everything all at once on your own.

  • Thanks for this post! There is no doubt that when one person is doing multiple tasks they all suffer. One of the most important things to remember is to just do one thing at a time.

    We live in this instant world where doing multiple tasks at once is encouraged. Unfortunately, in the business world we must consider that our ability to multitask might not be an asset, but rather might hinder good job performance.