Multiple Tasks – Is It An Effective Time Management Strategy?


When viewing jobs in newspapers or on the web, it is clear that multiple tasks are a key competency for time management that is required in today’s work environment. It is implicitly or explicitly stated in job positions with phrases such as “Ability to prioritize workload, manage time effectively and meet deadlines”, “highly organized, innovative, problem-solving” or “Strong organizational skills with multitasking capability”. But is multi-tasking really an effective time management skill?

Multi-tasking, as we know it today, requires people to work on many things at once. However, there are several people, including me, who believe that multi-tasking requirements put disproportionate and probably unnecessary pressure on employees. This creates a stressful work environment and will usually have a negative impact on performance. I believe that the problem with multiple tasks likes the way it is defined and then the way we try to do it. MSN Encarta’s online dictionary defines multi-tasking as “doing several things at once: performing more than one task at a time.” But is it really humanly possible? As it turns out, there are many research studies conducted by institutions such as Stanford University, the University of Michigan, UCLA and many others, into the human brain and its ability to handle multiple current tasks. The findings of these studies have also stunned scientists, revealing that the human brain does not function optimally if it is taxed by multiple requirements that need to be addressed simultaneously. Let me make it clear here – that does not mean that employees are not able to manage more responsibilities. The results of studies suggest that the brain prefers to focus on one thing after another over a specified period of time.

The workplace of the 21st century largely depends on technology as the primary means of communication. Everyone owns a blackberry company and it seems that new productivity expectations require a continuous connection of employees. In addition, the social media network is becoming increasingly popular as a viable marketing tool for organizations. Employees in the modern workplace will find themselves juggling emails, text messages, tweets and Facebook updates with traditional business activities such as attending meetings, checking messages, balancing budgets and managing projects. Lots of reasons why you think you have more tasks? Let’s take a closer look.

International lead coach and author David Rock has written the book “Your Brain at Work” and tells his story through the very busy and demanding lives of Paul and Emily. Now I will not pretend to be a neurobiologist and begin to discuss the composition and complexity of the human brain. To understand and appreciate the limitations of the brain, it is necessary to understand some basic facts about its composition and way of functioning. Activities that require problem solving and decision-making skills activate a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain behind the forehead and controls all your conscious behaviors and interactions with your environment. According to David Rock’s book, there are five key functions that make up most of our conscious thoughts: understanding, decision making, evoking, remembering, and repressing. Performing tasks such as problem solving, communication, message control, project management, and the like requires the use of various combinations of these features.

These activities rely solely on the prefrontal cortex and require a lot of energy to be executed. Not surprisingly, his analysis has shown what experts have known for a long time, and research has confirmed – the human brain – even the smartest – is not neurologically involved to process more than one “conscious” activity at the same time. Here we focus on two conscious activities and at the same time consciousness. Although we can manage several neighboring projects, problems arise when we try to work on more than one project at a time. Through narration, he was able to show the effect of trying to do too many things at once and how quickly accuracy, competence and credibility begin to suffer. Studies of the “double hit” phenomenon consistently show that for best performance and accuracy, people should focus on one project or task at a time. When they add a task that is considered “embedded” or autopilot, it is somewhat affected by a slight decrease in accuracy. However, when trying to juggle more than one high-concentration task, there is a significant decrease in performance and accuracy. Nevertheless, despite this consistent finding, most organizations still require employees to engage in “continuous partial attention,” where attention is always divided between high-level tasks, leading to constant mental exhaustion, which, you guessed, affects quality and accuracy. our work. These studies further revealed that when juggling more than one high-intensity task, people end up needing more time to do it, so it is not time-saving. However, the facts about how our brains are involved in work remain constant:

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

– Switching between tasks uses energy; when we do a lot, we are prone to mistakes

– Performing multiple conscious tasks at the same time will reduce accuracy and / or performance

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

And given the biological limitations of how much brain it can handle at once, it’s important for managers to consider the impact on performance and therefore develop realistic expectations for themselves and their employees when it comes to multiple tasks. If we have more tasks, the wisdom is that we are selective about what activities will be paired together. Although employees are expected to be able to “maximize their time” working on more than one thing at a time, employees should be careful to combine their highest responsibilities with the activities they can essentially perform on “pilots.” . These tasks will be less demanding on our energy resources and rely on a different part of the brain – leaving the prefrontal cortex looser to focus better on a more complex task.

To make better use of our brain power, it would be wise for us to consider some of the ideas I present below:

1. Let’s correctly define multi-tasking for the workplace. From my point of view, multi-tasking in the workplace is much more complicated than simply doing several things at once. It is a time management competency that requires the ability to set priorities in order to effectively manage multiple projects on your board. Multi-tasking is the ability to work smarter by 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 when you’re trying to balance your department’s budget. However, you will be able to check these emails during a conference call with a project update if you are not a keynote speaker or even a recipient of notes. When pairing tasks, always use wisdom to ensure that you do not pair two high concentration tasks together. We will not be able to escape responsibility from more than one project, but we must exercise full control over our time to be effective with the specific task at hand. You see, the ultimate goal of multiple tasks should not be how much stuff can be completed in a short period of time. Instead, it should be about efficiency in managing your time for a good job, fulfilling all your responsibilities.

2. When you’re in a meeting, put the blackberries away! This particular problem is my pet 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 say “Stop doing it” and look at me when I talk to you! Because “everyone does it,” the distracted participants seem to be expecting the meeting today. If so, why have an appointment at all? Why not just email a summary of the points you want to address, because everyone is still checking their emails? Think about it. How many times have you called a meeting because you want to make sure everyone gets the same information at once, but the people you really want to get involved with only part of their attention? Then an hour after the meeting, will they send you an email asking for information that was discussed in detail during the meeting? We see the truth, even though they thought they were doing a good job with more tasks, they were really more focused on the other things they were doing, so they missed the good discussions. The point for me is that I don’t want to be rude. Therefore, just as we expect meeting leaders to come ready to conduct their meetings, we should be prepared to participate fully by listening and possibly contributing and providing feedback.

3. This next point is a weakness for me. It’s a tendency to work over lunch. I’m definitely guilty of that. Remember that the prefrontal cortex, where all our understanding, decision-making, evocation, memorization, and repression are performed, consumes a lot of energy. It is good to stop in action and physically get away from work and concentrate on food. Food is the time to refuel. Think about it. When you take a car to a gas station for refueling, you don’t leave the engine running while refueling, do you? There’s a good reason for that. I’m no car mechanic, but it’s reasonable to assume that turning off the engine allows the vehicle to inject fuel more responsibly and reduces the risk of major faults, such as sparks caused by connecting the engine to fuel and causing an explosion! Likewise, turn off the engines when refueling the body (and brain). Recover your energy levels so you can work more efficiently.

4. Finally, learn to appreciate the use of the word NO. I’ve said it before and I really believe it. And so is David Rock. Studies have shown that the average employee spends about 2.5 hours each day dealing with distractions. And once it dissipates, it takes about 25 minutes to refocus on your project. But distractions are not always external – for example, your neighbor’s cube phone is constantly ringing and not there to answer him, or from your good friend who would stop and say hello just as you got to work. The vast majority of distractions are internal – like thinking about meeting your friends later and how much fun you’ll have, or what you’re going to have for dinner tonight, or you’re tired of all the parties you did last weekend. Learning to say NO to distractions, both internal and external, is a skill that can be learned but requires the ability to concentrate. In terms of internal distractions, David Rock describes the ability to take breaks and pinch internal unrest in the bud before ideas have a chance to take root. But keep in mind that you have about 0.2 seconds to do it! For external distractions, it is okay to press the “send calls to voicemail” button on your neighbor’s phone; or ask your friend to join during lunch so you can concentrate. In addition, sometimes for performers, distractions come in the form of additional projects and responsibilities. If your inbox is full, don’t confess. It is not wise to accept a new project once you have reached your limits. If saying no is not an option, consider discussing expectations and priorities with your supervisor. What are the expectations and how realistic are they? What is most important for the company today? And what are the consequences when the cracks start to sink because there is too much?

The fact is, if we are honest, we have to admit that more tasks, as we have found, are not always good for our business. We won’t get more in less time. If the quality and accuracy of our work is important to us, it will take us longer than we can. Whenever we are in a hurry or under pressure to do more things faster, there is a high probability that quality and accuracy will be compromised. So the question we should ask ourselves (and our managers) is: what is most important at this point – is it the amount of work we can do in the end time, or is it the quality of our output? There is extensive research that supports the fact that the quality of work decreases with increasing workload. We should therefore decide which one is most important for our businesses and for us – quantity or quality. Choose one because it can’t be both.