Multitasking – no matter how many times we are told that we are more productive when we focus on one task at a time, that information doesn’t seem to sink in. Probably because we are trying to write a memo, read email, do neck stretches and drive at the same time. We insist that we can effectively do several tasks at once, and we’re not listening very well. And our tech tools are just feeding our multitasking addiction. Today, everyone is obsessed with the news that soon, with iOS 8, Apple will provide true multitasking on the iPad, with the ability to display two apps on the screen at the same time. Just think of how much more confusion we can bring to our days.
It also doesn’t help discourage any of us from trying to multitask when we hear about the presence of true “supertaskers.” A very small percentage of people, says University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, actually are genetically predisposed to more efficient brain function with the addition of multiple tasks. Perhaps 2 percent of us have this skill set, says Strayer.
But as Nick Kolakowski points out at Dice.com, you can’t make your way into that group by practicing multitasking. You’re either born that way, or you aren’t.
This is good news, though. Rather than increasing our frustration levels by trying to add more tasks to each hour and each day, the reality is that we can increase our productivity – and reduce stress – simply by focusing on fewer things at once. Preferably one thing at a time, actually.
At SFGate.com, Kim Thompson writes that the dangers of over-reliance on multitasking include everything from putting yourself and others into physical peril (while driving and talking on the phone, for example), to damaging relationships with coworkers who feel slighted, to errors in your work, to exhaustion. Thompson’s suggestions for how to move toward reducing multitasking and increasing work productivity and effectiveness include taking an inventory for a set period of time of what interruptions you experience. Determine which are true crisis-level activities. Determine which escalate to seemingly crisis-level because of the way you react to them. Examining what your day really looks like right now will shed more light on how to better focus than simply trying to prioritize your activities.
Managers, too, Thompson writes, can improve relations with their teams by delegating more effectively, rather than multitasking to the point of futility. As well, assisting team members in reducing their interruptions and the pressure to multitask is one of the more helpful things a manager can do. Result: more effective work practices and gains in productivity.