Written by Aliza Sklar
Being the Office Manager at the Center for Anxiety means completing many many (many) tasks – both big and small. As such, I’ve wondered lately: does multi-tasking really help to get the job(s) done faster?
For some, multi-tasking may seem to help accomplish much in a short amount of time. For others, it may also help keep things interesting; there’s no room for boredom when one is involved in many tasks, switching between them at a rapid clip. However, any honest multi-tasker must ask him or herself: though it seems that a great quantity of work has been accomplished, is there any quality sacrificed when tasks are attempted two or more at a time?
As people multitask, their ability to do each task well decreases since it takes time for our brains to switch between one task and another. This is particularly the case for complex/ unfamiliar tasks. Furthermore, while the amount of time it can take to switch between two tasks may be less than a second, recent research suggests that in individuals who frequently shift their attention, those blocks can add up to as much as 40% of productive time! Not to mention – multitasking also increases the probability of errors in one’s work, which cost additional time to correct.
So, as disappointing as it may be, when it comes down to it multi-tasking is actually counter-productive! The next time you think you are acting efficiently as you send an email while live chatting with the Staples rep while speaking to AppleCare on the phone, keep in mind that the less you do at once, the better. But what’s a chronic multi-tasker to do???
Here are three practical tips to avoid multi-tasking and still get it all done (number 2 is a favorite of mine).
1) Switch tasks in 20-minute increments. For those of you who just can’t work on one project for hours and hours, focusing on one job for bigger increments of time will get you further than spending just 5-10 minutes (or seconds) on each task before moving on.
2) Make a list of the tasks you have to accomplish. Having all the assignments down in front of you helps you to stay organized and keep on top of everything. Every time a new job comes up, take a moment to jot it down – but remember to stay focused on your task at hand, confident that you’ll remember to do the next item later. It’s also fun to check off each item as you complete it!
3) Keep your desk organized (a topic for another blogpost…) The less distractions you have in front of you, the more likely you will be to finish each item on your list.