Multitasking – Is It An Effective Time Management Strategy?

When looking for job advertisements in the newspaper or on the web, it is very clear that multitasking is an essential time management skill required in today's workplace. It is implicitly or explicitly stated in job postings with phrases such as "Ability to prioritize workload, manage time efficiently and meet set deadlines", "highly organized, innovative, problem solver" or "Strong organizational skills with ability to perform various tasks ". . But is multitasking really an effective time management skill?

Multitasking as we know it today requires people to work on many things all at the same time. But there are some people, including me, who believe that the demands of multitasking put undue and arguably unnecessary pressure on employees. This creates stressful work environments and will usually have a negative impact on performance. I believe that the problem of multitasking likes the way it is defined and, later on, the way we try to execute it. MSN Encarta's online dictionary defines multitasking as "doing several things at once: performing more than one task at a time." But is this really humanly possible? It turns out that there are many research studies conducted by institutions like Stanford University, University of Michigan, UCLA and many others in the human brain and its ability to handle multiple simultaneous tasks. The results of these studies have even surprised researchers, revealing that the human brain does not function optimally when overloaded with multiple demands that must be addressed simultaneously. Let me clarify here – this does not mean that employees are unable to manage various responsibilities. What the study results suggest is that the brain prefers to focus on one thing at a time for a designated time period.

The 21st century workplace relies heavily on technology as its primary mode of communication. Everyone owns a blackberry business and it seems that new productivity expectations require employees to be connected all the time. In addition, social media networks are increasingly gaining popularity as a viable marketing tool for organizations. Modern workplace employees find themselves manipulating Facebook emails, text messages, tweets, and updates with traditional business activities such as attending meetings, reviewing reports, balancing budgets, and managing projects. Too many reasons to justify multitasking, you say? Well, let's have a look.

Author and international leadership coach David Rock has written the book "Your Brain at Work" and tells his story through the busy and demanding lives of Paul and Emily. Now, I won't pretend to be a neurobiologist and start discussing the composition and complexity of the human brain. But to understand and appreciate the limitations of the brain, it is necessary to understand some basic facts about its composition and how it works. Activities that require problem-solving and decision-making skills activate a section of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This is the section of the brain behind your forehead and controls all your conscious behaviors and interactions with the environment. According to David Rock's book, there are five main functions that make up most of our conscious thoughts: understanding, deciding, remembering, memorizing, and inhibiting. Performing tasks such as troubleshooting, communicating, reviewing reports, project management, and the like requires the use of various combinations of these functions.

These activities depend solely on the prefrontal cortex and require a lot of energy to perform. Not surprisingly, through his analysis, he has been able to pinpoint what experts have long known and research corroborates – the human brain – even the most intelligent of them – is not neurologically connected to process more than one. "conscious" activity at the same time. The two focal points here are conscious activities at the same time. Although we can manage multiple adjacent projects, problems arise when we try to work on more than one project simultaneously. Through narrative, he was able to show the effect of trying to do many things at once and how quickly accuracy, competence and credibility begin to suffer. Studies of the phenomenon of "double-task interference" have consistently shown that for best performance and accuracy, people must focus on one project or task at a time. When they add a task that is considered "built-in" or autopilot "performance, it is impacted with a slight drop in accuracy. But when they try to handle more than one high concentration task, there is a significant drop in performance and accuracy. However, despite these consistent findings, most organizations still require employees to engage in 'continuous partial attention', where attention is always divided between high-level tasks, resulting in constant mental exhaustion. which, you guessed, affects the quality and accuracy of our work. In addition, these studies also revealed that by manipulating more than one high-intensity task, people take longer to do everything, so there's no savings However, the facts about how our brain is connected to work remain constant:

– We can focus on just one conscious task at a time

– Switching between tasks consumes energy; when we do that a lot, we are likely to make mistakes

– Performing multiple conscious tasks at the same time will result in lower accuracy and / or performance.

– The only way to perform two mental tasks quickly and maintain a high level of accuracy is to do them one at a time.

And so, given the biological limitations of how much the brain can handle at the same time, it's important for managers to consider the impact on performance and thus develop realistic expectations for themselves and their employees regarding multitasking. If we need to perform several tasks, it is wise to be selective about which activities will be paired. While there is an expectation that employees will be able to maximize their time Working on more than one thing at a time, they should be careful to pair their top-level responsibilities with activities they can perform on 'autopilot'. . These tasks will be less demanding on our energy resources and depend on a different part of the brain – leaving the prefrontal cortex free to focus better on the more complex task.

Therefore, to better utilize our brain power, it may be wise to consider some of the ideas I am presenting below:

1. Let's correctly define multitasking for the workplace. From my perspective, multitasking in the workplace is much more complex than simply doing several things at once. It is a time management competency that requires the ability to prioritize to handle multiple projects effectively. Multitasking is the ability to work smarter, determining when it is appropriate to focus on more than one task at a time. For example, you don't want to respond to email requests while trying to balance your department's budget. However, you can check these emails during the project update conference call, as long as you are not a key presenter or even a note taker. Always exercise wisdom when pairing tasks, ensuring that you do not pair two high concentration tasks. We will not be able to escape the responsibility of various projects, but we must exercise total control of our time to be effective with the specific task at hand. See, the ultimate goal of multitasking should not be the amount of material that can be completed in a short period of time. Instead, it should be about efficiently managing your time to do a good job, fulfilling all your responsibilities.

2. Store the blackberry when in a meeting! This particular problem is my problem, and you may or may not agree with it. I always remember the way I was raised and I constantly hear my mother's voice saying, "Stop doing that & look at me when I'm talking to you!" As everyone is doing, it seems that distracted attendees are expecting meetings today. If so, why hold the meeting? Why not just send us a summary of the points you want to address, since everyone always checks your emails anyway? Think about it. How many times have you called a meeting because you want to make sure everyone gets the same information at the same time, but the people you really want to get involved with are only giving you some of their attention? After an hour after the meeting, do they send an email requesting information that was covered and discussed in detail during the meeting? You see, while they thought they were doing a good job multitasking, they were really more focused on the other things they were doing, so they missed the good discussions. The main point for me is that I don't want to be rude. Therefore, just as we expect meeting leaders to prepare to lead their meetings, so should we be prepared to participate fully by listening and, where appropriate, contributing and giving feedback.

3. This next point is a weakness for me. It is the tendency to work during lunch. I am definitely guilty of that. Remember, the prefrontal cortex, where all our understanding, decision, remembering, memorizing and inhibiting is done, consumes a lot of energy. It's a good idea to take a break from the action and physically withdraw from your work to focus on your meal. Mealtime is time to restock. Think about it. When you take your car to the gas station to refuel, you don't keep the engine running while you refuel, do you? There is a good reason for this. I am not a car mechanic, but it is reasonable to suppose that turning off the engine allows the car to be more receptive to injected fuel and reduces the risk of serious accidents such as engine sparks connecting to fuel and causing an explosion! Similarly, when refueling your body (and your brain), shut down your engines. Increase your energy level so that you can function more effectively.

4. Finally, learn to appreciate the use of the word NO. I've said it before and really believe it. And David Rock too. Studies have shown that the average employee spends about 2.5 hours a day dealing with distractions. And once distracted, it takes about 25 minutes before you can focus back on your project. But the distraction isn't always external – like the cube neighbor's phone ringing constantly and he's not there to answer, or your good friend stopping to say hello, just as you were flowing at work. The vast majority of distractions are internal – like thinking about going out with your friends later and how much fun you'll have, or what you'll do for dinner tonight, or even get tired of all the parties you've had last weekend. Learning to say NO to distractions, internal and external, is a skill that can be learned, but it requires an ability to concentrate. For inner distractions, David Rock describes the ability to stop and nip internal turbulence in the bud before ideas have a chance to take root. Be warned, you have about 0.2 seconds to make this happen! For outside distractions, press OK "send calls to voicemail" on your neighbor's phone; or ask your friend to connect over lunch so you can stay focused. In addition, sometimes for high performers, distraction occurs in the form of additional projects and responsibilities. If your newsletter is full, don't be shy to admit it. Taking on a new project when you are already stretched to its limits is not wise. If refusing is not an option, consider discussing expectations and priorities with your manager. What are the expectations and how realistic are they? What is most important to business right now? And what are the consequences if things start falling into the cracks because you have so much to deal with?

The reality is that if we are honest, we have to admit that multitasking, as we know, does not always benefit our business. We don't do more in less time. In fact, it takes more time to do things right if the quality and accuracy of our work is important to us. Whenever we are rushed or pressured to do more things faster, there is a high likelihood that quality and accuracy will be compromised. So the question we must ask ourselves (and our managers) is, what is most important right now – is the amount of work we can do in a finite period of time or the quality of our production? There is ample research supporting the fact that as the amount of work increases, the quality of work decreases. Therefore, we must decide which is most important to our business and to us – quantity or quality. Choose one because it can't be both.