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Amy Joyce: Life at Work

Everything at Once In a Multitask World

2, 4, 6 or 8 Jobs to Do That Can't Be Late

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page F06

Raise your hand if you have a lot to do. (That is, if you have a free hand from the simultaneous typing, reading and talking on the cell phone.)

Whether you thrive on it or detest it, face it: We are a world of multitaskers.

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Marc Cappelletti never really did just one thing when he was a cruise director, which he was until recently. He lasted in the job for 11 months before he decided he missed his family, wouldn't mind getting clothes out of a closet rather than a suitcase, and sure would like to ease up on his crazy workload a little bit.

He says he never did fewer than three things at a time. Lunch? Sure, if he brought information with him and sat answering passengers' questions.

Sleep? A few hours a night. But that was often interrupted by telephone calls, followed by trying to figure out how to dock as soon as possible to get a sick passenger to shore.

When he sat at the ship's information desk, he answered passengers' queries -- which often were as obscure as "Where is a post office in Belize?" -- while in the midst of making calls for day excursions, organizing music for that night's dinner, checking in with the port agents to let them know when the ship would be docking. All while trying to say hello to passing passengers. By name.

"Since there was a small crew, I literally had to do everything," he said. The George Washington University 2003 graduate recently took another job teaching English as a second language.

The word "multitask" is supposed to refer to computers that have more than one window open and running at the same time. But now, it's much more frequently used to describe what we do. We have gadgets that allow us to surreptitiously do things while doing other things. Corporations continue to downsize and ask employees to take on the extra work. And so we take on several things at one time.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean we're getting more done.

According to a survey done for the magazine Scientific American Mind, 90 percent of American adults are multitasking. Yet 57 percent said that despite being busier than ever, they feel like they get less done. (More than 1,000 people were polled.)

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