September 7, 2022 | Barb Carr

Are You a Multi-Tasker?


The ability to multi-task in a fast-paced environment while maintaining an emphasis on quality sounds like a desirable trait for the workplace.  In fact, it is one of the most requested job skills.  But is it truly desirable?  Does “multitasking” really help us get the job done? 

To do two things at once is to do neither. ~ Publius Syrus

The quote above made me think about what I’m really doing when I multi-task:  many things at once, but none very well.

What it really means to multi-task.

Multi-tasking is not really doing more than one thing at once, it is actually switching attention from one thing to another very rapidly so that it seems like more than one thing is getting done simultaneously.  Similar tasks compete to use the same part of the brain so it is impossible to do them at the same time.  Even if the tasks are not at all similar, they can still overwhelm the brain when we try to do too many at one time. Research shows that when we allow our attention to switch back and forth by multitasking, it lowers our efficiency and productivity—particularly when we’re working on more complex tasks.

How can you maintain efficiency during the day? 

Here are 3 easy tips:

1.      Follow the 80/20 rule.  Use the first 1.5 hours or so (20%) of your day concentrating on the most critical task, and you will enjoy progress even though distractions come later. (Checking e-mail does not qualify as a concentrative task!)

2.      Speaking of e-mail, don’t reply to an e-mail if it is not necessary.  Even a simple “thanks” can start a chain of time-consuming e-mails that are disruptive, and not productive.

3.      Work for 10 minutes every day on that nagging task you dread.  One of two things will happen:  1) After the first 10 minutes you’ll decide to continue and finish it up for good or 2) you will finish a little each day – but you will finish much sooner than if you keep procrastinating.

Sometimes by doing less, we may accomplish even more.  A little focus can go a long way in getting the work done.

Human errors from multi-tasking can compromise safety in the workplace.

Have you ever had a problem with workers making errors because they were trying to do too many things at once? Learn human performance best practices backed by over 30 years of research and development in our upcoming Stopping Human Error Course and mitigate those types of mistakes.

Join us in Austin, Texas, October 24-25, 2022 to learn about stopping human error. You’ll learn tried and true strategies for minimizing human error as well as how to design a human performance improvement program. It’s the last time this course will be offered this year!

Human Performance
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