Are You A Multi-tasker?
Since I was a kid I thought I was a master at multi-tasking. After all I could watch TV while doing my math homework – no problem! As a nurse I could manage all the intricacies of the care of 30 patients (with a little help from my staff) – no problem! I could shift my attention to an emergency immediately and function effectively – no problem! But is multi-tasking really bringing out the best in us? And don’t you need that skill to be an effective nurse? Let’s explore.
Multi-tasking has been over-rated even tho I still believe I can do it. But truth be told, I know every time I am immersed in a project and get interrupted, I have to regroup, rethink where I left off, try to remember the creative thoughts and energy I had been cultivating, and find myself frustrated and wasting time. So here is what the literature says about the drawbacks of multi-tasking.
Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. There's a lag time while your brain shifts attention from one task to another. And while it feels like this shift is seamless, it actually takes as much as 40 percent more time than focusing on one task at a time -- more for complex tasks.
Managers are facing a reality where we are perpetually under pressure, overloaded with information, and distracted. Researchers have found that our attention has decreased significantly over the past decade. We are involuntarily not paying attention to what we are doing 47 per cent of our waking hours.
Higher stress, diminished mental functioning, brain overload
When multitasking there is little real progress and this leads to a feeling of inadequacy, concentration decreases, which causes stress which hinders thinking and memory. Social media is really nothing but multitasking, with several parallel plots and issues and increases brain overload. Neural mechanisms for integrating consecutive and interleaved natural events. Human Brain Mapping, 2017.
So if all of this is true, and I now believe it is based on my own personal experience, what can we do to manage more effectively and efficiently and still get everything done? Here are some tips - and I'm confident you will be able to add to this list.
- Accept the truth - Multi-tasking is not effective and commit to managing it for yourself.
- Shift to single-tasking - Stay focused on a project long enough for completion and then move on to the next project. You will become more productive and save time too.
- Resist the temptation to respond to your phone immediately - Exception - it is your primary job. Schedule uninterrupted time twice a day for emails and phone messages.
- Practice Mindfulness - Be mindful of what you are doing in the present moment. Remind yourself to take a breath and collect your thoughts so you can stay focused. If you are reading a message on your phone while talking to someone, you are not listening and you are not retaining what you are reading.
- Avoid interruptions - If you need to work on a project, determine how much time you need to complete, lock yourself away, and stay focused until it is done. Put a message on your phone saying you will get back to them within a specified time frame. Schedule office hours for drop-in visitors and don't schedule extra tasks within that time frame. Or if you do, be ready to set that aside you so you can give undivided attention to your guest.
- Survey your usual day- Note how your day usually goes and try to avoid opportunities for multi-tasking. If you know they are unavoidable, make good choices about what your priorities are and focus on them, not those of others.
- Don't fill up empty time slots with more tasks - If you sit down for a meeting and while waiting start checking emails, you will be caught reading them and won't be alert to conversations that are going on that might involve your input.
Remember, multi-tasking doesn't work for optimal use of your time. This could be a challenge to change your behavior, but with any behavior change, start with baby steps and see what happens. Be your own research project.
If you have more ideas, please share. I can always use more!