Revisited: A taskmaster I’m not

I recently received an email from a higher-up at my company that seemed to suggest I’d be taking on an assignment. I don’t mind doing everyday work at the office but something akin to a project was alarming news, or could be if I found a way to make sense of the communication.

I was being “tasked” to act as a “resource” charged with producing a “deliverable” in an effort at improving our “validation.” As I waded through the dense corporate prose, I gradually got a vague idea of what I was to do.

The “validation” was designed to audit a process we have in place to audit our auditors, ridiculous perhaps to those not familiar with all the cross-checks we do in my field yet something I actually understood. Because I’m well past my reproductive peak, I knew the “deliverable” didn’t require me to bear live young but instead to return a written report. I guessed it was me who was being called the “resource,” which is one of the nicer complements I’d received at work in some time.

As for the “tasking,” I finally figured out that it meant I had to do something. I was okay with that, as I do a lot of things every day. I was just glad that it didn’t involve multi-tasking which, like many men of my generation, I’m not very good at.

Dictionary.com defines multi-tasking as “free background checks on tutors, online video tutoring, live learning.” No, wait, that’s the advertisement on Dictionary.com. Multi-tasking is the “concurrent or interleaved execution of two or more jobs by a single CPU,” though it’s also frequently applied to individuals who can do more than one thing at once, individuals who are typically young people or women people.

The example we’ve seen cited most often in the media over the last few months is the breast-pump/Blackberry scenario, in which high-powered female managers are able to successfully balance their family responsibilities with their careers. I think this situation is more symbolic than real, since even the sharpest executive can occasionally confuse a send button with an on-switch, which dismays the heck out of the customer service representative at your wireless provider who tries to help un-stick your keypad.

I realized a few days ago just how inept I was at multi-tasking when my wife called my cell phone while I was driving to a local fast-food restaurant. I answered the call just as I was pulling in to Wendy’s to order a 5-piece nuggets (no sauce), and listened intently as she asked if I needed anything at the grocery store. It took every last bit of concentration I could summon to avoid running over the speaker box and/or placing a takeout order for roll-on deodorant, a can of jungle-strength Off! and a refill on my Lipitor (no sauce).

I didn’t do much better the next day when she called me again while I was hiking along a busy highway from my workplace to a nearby diner. I needed to confirm an upcoming dental appointment, continue walking in a straight line, and avoid being hit by an oncoming tractor-trailer all at the same time. (And I’m not even counting relatively autonomic exercises like respiration, digestion and brain-stem activity.) I was careful, I was successful, and I was proud of myself.

Typically I do a better and more thorough job when I can line up a set of chores in sequential order. Take my morning routine, for example. I start the coffee brewing, remove the lunchmeat from the refrigerator, lay the bread out on a paper towel, remove the cat from the counter, rinse off some grapes, retrieve my briefcase from the hallway, pick out a couple of Oreos, dislodge the cat again, assemble the sandwich, select a breakfast bar from the cupboard, yell “no” at the cat, pour the coffee into a mug, brush the crumbs into the garbage, and put everything into the briefcase. My arms are flying about and the end-result might take a little longer to achieve than if I was able to combine some of my efforts, but at least I don’t open my satchel four hours later and have Tom jump out.

Maybe it’s the involvement of modern communications equipment that contributes to my befuddlement. Considering that I can barely look for the correct expressway off-ramp and listen to a radio at the same time, it’s not surprising that I have these difficulties. I like to say my brain is hard-wired differently, as if that high-tech analogy will deflect any perception that I’m simply an aging idiot. I think I’m pretty adept with computers and electronics for someone in their mid-50s, however I need to focus on the function at hand if I’m to avoid accidentally taking down the Southeast power grid when I only meant to send my son an instant message.

Fortunately, the validation project I was roped into was something I could complete on my own timetable and terms. I took two days “off-line,” as we call it when we head to the conference room for a mixture of spreadsheet compilation and laptop Scrabble, and assembled an impressive list of suggested revisions to our standard operating procedure. I redefined glossary terms, offered a few new practice exercises and assembled a nice choice of additional words into a professional-sounding collection.

I just hope the recipient of my deliverable reads the words in the order I submitted them. Otherwise, she’ll be as confused as I usually am.

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One Response to “Revisited: A taskmaster I’m not”

  1. Paul Dixon Says:

    Corporate language: I was once privy to an internal memo from deep within our local power company which referred to its employees as “worker units”. Nice. I doubt that any of the upper management had even ever read Orwell.

    Cats: Personally, I think that cats believe that the “no” sound we humans constantly make is the funniest thing we do. “No-no!” would send them into veritable paroxysms of laughter, if only cats could laugh.

    Aging idiots: The time interval to answer the questions on ‘Jeopardy!’ seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Why don’t they just leave well enough alone?

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