A client of mine, apparently a very busy individual, had this habit of looking down at his notepad quite often and ticking something or the other while listening to what the person opposite him was saying. When the person would go quiet and wait for him to finish what he was doing, he'd say, 'No problem, I can multi-task, I’m listening; you go ahead.’
Two things - it is entirely impolite to do something else while someone is speaking with you, and, multi-tasking on two separate activities is impossible, at least it is not without compromises.
Homemakers will show you how multi-tasking is done – the busybody mom will have the stove burner on to warm the milk, the clothes will have to be taken out of the washing machine, the doorbell will be answered in a jiffy and the ringing phone will be picked up – all within the same time span. And, not to forget the vegetable chopping that is happening in the kitchen!
It’s not hard to notice that all tasks are related. But if this working mom had to also work on her business proposal off the laptop on the dining table, it’s a different story. Either the milk will boil over or the proposal contains clothes and vegetables!
At the office, if you are working on a specific task, any number of related activities, happening simultaneously, are fine and it will add to the final result for eg,. checking on the internet for references and sources while preparing a slide for the presentation that is due in the evening and telephonically clarifying a detail in the slide with a colleague. At this time, doing anything unrelated will considerably affect the results of one or both.
The client, a reputed doctor and hospital owner has since completely weaned out the habit. In a role-reversal, it was his turn to take some advice!