In today's busy world, multitasking is all too common. Juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities might seem like the best way to get a lot done.
I often see "multitasker" listed as a professional description on résumés and profiles on social networking sites. In fact, I have described myself as a great multitasker. But as I read more about multitasking as it relates to successful project management, I am learning that it is better to be a strong time manager than a multitasker.
Multitasking is defined as performing two or more tasks simultaneously. It can also involve switching from one task to another or performing a number of tasks in rapid succession. All humans multitask on daily basis, whether at home, school or in the office.
Just the other day, I was watching TV, checking emails on my phone and reading an article on my tablet…but was I really doing any of these things efficiently? When I went back and read one of my emails while “multitasking”, it was a mess. I don’t know that I could tell you what was on TV and I am not sure what I got out of the article I read. Now granted, this was at the end of a long day and I was basically brain dead, but this begs the question: am I any better earlier in the day?
In a NPR News interview on multitasking, Stanford University professor Clifford Nass talked about his study which suggested that multitasking actually weakens cognitive ability and brain function. In his study, they focused on three key areas:
- The ability to filter relevant information from non-relevant information.
- The ability to manage one's working memory, so essentially filing information away for immediate recall.
- The response rate of switching from one task to another.
His findings surprisingly concluded that heavy multitaskers were attracted to non-relevant information, could not recall information quickly, and were slower and actually worse at switching tasks. And there is no gender bias here either: men and women are equally bad. My wife's not happy with this finding…
How many times have you been guilty of starting a task, getting sidetracked by something and then upon returning to the task, have trouble getting started again or even not remembering what it was you were trying to do?
So what is the better way? It sounds “old-school” but you are more efficient if you are able to focus on one task at a time. That is becoming much harder with the constant presence of distractions and the over saturation of information.
Here is what I do to be more efficient:
- Check emails at set times during the day and set follow up flags for emails that can be handled later
- Turn off incoming notifications on my social media – they can wait until a break or lunch
- Guard my time from pointless meetings (more on this in a later blog)
- Be more disciplined when working on something to give it the attention it needs
I believe there will always be a need to be a “multitasker”; but unless you are efficient, it doesn’t matter how many tasks you can work on at once if you cannot bring any to completion, or the work you produce is of low quality.
My goal is to be a great Time Manager rather than a great multitasker.