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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Re-post] The Advantages of Not Multi-Tasking

Tantek Multitasking

Tantek Multitasking (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

 

Always thought it was best to focus on one thing at a time….

 

From the 8 August 2013 article at Higher Ed Jobs by Kelly A. Cherwin, Communications Editor, HigherEdJobs

 

Although I did turn off my cell phone, I attended the recent ACUHO-I conference session eating my yogurt and drinking a cup of coffee as I was taking notes on why most people are not efficient at multi-tasking. This is why I’m sharing tips from the presentation: “I’m Really Good at Multi-tasking” – No You Are Not!

Many people feel that if they multi-task, they can be more efficient and effective. However, the truth is that most people don’t do it well and often times the quality of each task completed may decrease. As discussed by the presenter, Cathy Bickel from Ball State University, a study by Microsoft found that it takes an employee an average of 15 minutes to return their attention back to the previous task when distracted by email, instant message, etc. If a person is in a meeting and then decides they must return a text message, they are no longer really focusing on the meeting details. They are physically sitting in the meeting, but they are not present because their attention is diverted to the text and then later more time is spent focusing their attention back to the meeting. Someone is on a phone call and then suddenly hears the “ding” of new emails in their inbox. They check the emails, while still talking on the phone but again, their attention is diverted from the phone call as well as possibly missing details in the emails. Examples of inefficient multi-tasking are plentiful. So, what is the answer? In most non-urgent cases, it is better to complete one task with one’s full attention and then move on to the next. Yes, the definition of urgent is subjective but most professionals should be able to distinguish between something urgent and the newest funny picture of a cat.

As Bickel mentioned, attention is a more limited resource than time and people need to manage their attention in order to be more productive. Here are strategies on how to manage attention and be more efficient without multi-tasking:

  • Prioritize the day. Try to schedule the most important tasks in the morning. Don’t move on to next task until the first one is complete. Having a to-do list of these necessary tasks is a must.
  • Consider time periods. Similar to what is encountered in school or in a sporting event, block the day into time periods. Work through these specific time periods accomplishing set tasks without allowing for interruptions. Schedule a bit of downtime in between periods for a breather or to take care of an urgent matter that may arise.
  • Remove negative attention. For example, turn off the phone during the meeting or set incoming message alerts to mute while on a phone call.
  • Don’t constantly fill the white space. There isn’t a need for technology all of the time. While waiting in line at the store or for the train, don’t always check the phone. Enjoy the surroundings!
  • Invest attention in high returns. Consider eliminating “non-essential” websites and only check your favorites like HigherEdJobs.com or others once a day.
  • Prevent distractions. Close the door if it is apparent that people or other noise will constantly be causing interruptions.
  • Discuss boundaries. Let friends and family know when it is appropriate to be contacted at work. If there is an illness, “yes” but to ask what is for dinner is a “no.”
  • Share commitments with others. If you tell people that you are not going to look at your emails the entire night, they can help hold you accountable.

It is not breaking news that we live in a chaotic world and often are forced to juggle many roles. But if we could all take a few minutes to slow down and truly focus on the task at hand (the meeting, an email, a co-worker, your family), both efficiency and effectiveness will follow even without multi-tasking.

 

 

August 29, 2013 - Posted by | Psychology, Workplace Health | , , ,

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