In recent months I have heard lots about multitasking.  There are usually two opinions on the subject:  (1) It is a good skill to possess, and (2) It is a hindrance to productivity.    Interestingly, during a recent telephone interview, I was asked about my adeptness at multitasking, which caused me to think more about its true meaning and value.

I think that every effective employee has to multitask.  Neither people nor events wait until you are ready to address them – they present themselves when ready, and when serving in a higher education position, where outstanding customer service is the Holy Grail, you are expected to respond.  No one striving to have a successful university career has the luxury of doing one thing at a time.  We move from one project to the next by necessity.   Is this the meaning of multitasking?  Are talking on the phone and signing documents, or typing on a computer and thinking about the many other projects in your queue considered multitasking? 

As we search for higher education employees for staff and faculty positions, should we define (or better define) multitasking?  Should it be a general requirement or expectation of any professional?  Is it understood that everyone should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time? How do we evaluate one’s adeptness as a multitasker?    Do we consider this skill an asset or a liability?  Should we accept that some professionals are not challenged or fulfilled if they are not simultaneously juggling multiple tasks? 

As employers of university professionals, we must clarify our personal perceptions of the multitasker.  Is it a good thing or not? 

 D. A. Buchanan is a 30-year higher education administrator and a member of the educational leadership graduate faculty of a historically black university in the southeast United States.

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