Most professionals say that multitasking has become essential in the fast-driven world we live in. But, there is an opposing view that questions its effectiveness. A closer look at what multitasking is and how it can be integrated into your work can help you improve your skills.
What is multitasking?
‘Multitasking’ was originally used to describe computers performing multiple tasks at the same time. When it’s used in the human context, it describes the ability to juggle two or more different activities at the same time. Most people do it without realising it. For example, sending texts while you are watching TV or listening to music while working.
Is multi-tasking a myth?
Multitasking is often associated with productivity and it is believed that it can improve performance. But, research has found, multitasking is more like a time-sharing activity instead of a juggling activity between tasks, and while a computer can run more than one application simultaneously, the human brain works differently.
Art Markman, cognitive psychologist agrees says that what the human brain does when multitasking is time-sharing. This is how it works: “Your brain can only actively think about one task at a time, so you focus on one task, then another takes its place, just like vacationers occupying a timeshare property. The shift is so fast you don’t even notice that you’re only doing one thing at a time. You feel like multitasking, but you are actually doing is time-sharing.”
Effective or not, it’s a skill most employers want you to possess. So, how can you as an employee improve your ability to switch your mind from one task to another quickly? Luckily we have some useful tips to help you.
Improving Your Multitasking Skills
Here’s what you can do if you want to improve your time-sharing abilities.
1. Make a to-do list
While it sounds straightforward, most people choose to ignore the power of to-do lists until it’s essential to come up with one. Looming deadlines at work make it impossible for our brains to figure out what we need to do at any given point and when other personal stuff gets in the way, it gets even worse.
Writing down what you need to do every day helps you stay alert and remember important tasks you have to complete. There are tons of time management and productivity apps that can help you. If you prefer to write it down, make sure you keep your list somewhere that’s visible.
2. Put priorities
Setting priorities is the best predictor of success. Most successful business owners manage to keep a good work-life balance because they know how much time they need to allocate to each task.
Your life can’t only be work, work and work. You need to have some fun once in a while. If you manage to balance work and play, you will learn how to do this with the smaller tasks, e.g. working on a big project, going to that long meeting and consulting with your supervisor first before you do anything etc.
3. Work on similar tasks
One way to easily switch between activities is to choose to work on similar tasks or activities that are related to each other. If these are completely unrelated to each other, then you risk losing focus, damaging your memory and productivity and wasting valuable time. If you can it’s better to keep things simple. The more similar the tasks are, the easier it will be for you to shift your focus between them.
4. Avoid distractions
If you want to be at your best, you need to avoid any distractions getting in the way of doing things. Interruptions can easily mess with your schedule, and this is why it’s important to find a place that you can work the way you want, without any background noise.
This depends on how you are used to working because some people don’t mind listening to music while they work. In fact, many find it helpful as music gives them the right ‘pulse’ to keep going. For better results though, you should experiment with your preferred working style.
5. Delegate tasks
Since we are only human, sometimes we can’t do everything at once and delegating tasks to another person is essential. It give you enough time to put 100 percent of your focus into the most important tasks. Delegating doesn’t mean that you are incapable of carrying out a task. Quite the contrary, it means that you know yourself well, your capabilities and boundaries, and you are willing to share the workload.
6. Make it a habit
Habits have a strong influence on your daily schedule. Think about how bad smoking is and you will realise how a habit can control your productivity, mood and health as a whole. If you train your mind to switch between tasks, you will manage to make it a habit. Then you will be able to repeat it naturally without even overthinking it.
7. Take a break to review new information
One of the greatest dangers of multitasking is that it can seriously affect your memory. The problem is that effectiveness relies on your memory skills and how much information you can take in. Let’s say if you have to go over some important documents during a busy day; it’s a good idea to review it with fresh eyes later in the day. This way you have greater chance to spot any mistakes you have done and make sure you understand what it said.
8. Plan ahead
For better performance, it’s a good idea to start with the most demanding tasks first. Then fill in the gaps with shorter, well-defined or self-contained tasks. Just make sure to allow extra time to work on the activity and make plans on how to resolve other issues that require your attention. To help yourself out, gather available resources that will prove useful for later.
When employers say you need to have multitasking skills, what they really mean is they need someone who can handle multiple priorities within the available time.
As such, when you are on the job hunt, it’s not enough to simply state that you are a multitasker on your CV. That’s easy, and anyone can do it. What’s difficult to do is come up with good examples to refer to in your job interview or how you handled multiple tasks or projects in the past…
Do you think you possess good multitasking skills? Let us know in the comments section below…