“Must be good at multitasking”

Today we continue our series on potential red flags in SuiteScript job postings with another seemingly ubiquitous phrase:

“Must be good at multitasking”

This one makes my eye twitch for two primary reasons. First: everyone, in every job, everywhere needs to be able to handle distractions effectively, which makes stating this completely unnecessary; it’s 2020, and we’re all constantly bombarded with distractions. As an employee, you must be developing habits, routines, and environments that eliminate distraction and allow for productive focus on the task at hand. As an employer, you must be developing a culture, processes, and tools which enable your employees to focus on impactful work and improve their own productivity habits.

Second: humans are terrible at multitasking. Our brains are single-threaded, and while you might be able to participate in a conference call, and write some code, and handle your email all at once, you are lying to yourself if you believe you are performing any one of them at your highest potential. Requiring an employee to consistently multitask is thus requiring them to operate below their potential.

Personally, I interpret this requirement for multitasking as a strong indication the company does not have in place the appropriate mindset, processes, or tools to effectively prioritize work. The client, stakeholder, or executive who yells the loudest at any given moment is going to get the attention, and project resources (i.e. the employees) are going to be shuffled around constantly based on these whims. Project plans will be thin and frail, if they exist at all, and will be thrown out the window as soon as something shinier or louder comes along. Very few projects will be completed on time as employees are pulled away from projects and spread too thin.

It’s no secret or surprise that unexpected situations always arise in projects; we all have to put out fires on occasion. However, advertising in your job description – your company’s cold introduction to a potential employee – that multitasking will be a major part of their day-to-day is a giant red flag in my eyes. You’re telling them you’ll consistently be pulling them away from their work on to different projects, and that your environment is not conducive to focus and productivity.

Software development is a detailed team effort and a creative process which requires long stretches of focus and flow for everyone involved. Multitasking is counterproductive and actively destructive to that process. If you do not believe or understand that, then I believe you should not have a software practice, or you should be actively learning how to eliminate the need for your employees to multitask; I can help you do just that.

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