This article was written by a member of the Women on Business community. Learn more about the author at the end of the article.
Multitasking, whether you believe it can be done or not, is something that everybody still tries to attempt. Things like driving in the car and listening to the radio while talking on the phone (hands-free of course) are activities we do on a daily basis.
Vehement supporters of multitasking probably swear by it, but numerous studies over the years have shown that it’s not the most efficient way of getting things done. In a BusinessWeek.com article, Paul Atchley stated, “Efficiency can drop by as much as 40%.”
In spite of these statistics, we still all seem to be able to achieve some things by juggling tasks. Single-minded dedication, no doubt, can produce some high-quality work, but there are some situations where multitasking is an absolute must. Chefs for example aren’t going to be watching their steak cook. They’ll be preparing the plate and the garnish and everything else that can be done while the steak is cooking.
The Problem with Multitasking
The problem with multitasking is that when switching from one task to another, we might not be giving each task the full attention it needs. In the end you make mistakes and waste precious time. Joe Robinson from Entrepreneur.com says, “When you’re on the phone and writing an e-mail at the same time, you’re actually switching back and forth between them, since there’s only one mental and neural channel through which language flows.”
The Multitasking Solution
Consciously or unconsciously, when you attempt to multitask, you’re ultimately trying to do more in less time. There’s a certain skill that some good leaders have when it comes to tackling tasks and getting things done: Divide and conquer.
Call it a more organized approach to multitasking but identifying what needs to be done first and when each task needs to be done by will give you a clear overview of everything you need to complete. If you’re working in a team, there could be tasks you can delegate to other members. Otherwise try and divide your tasks up and set milestones for yourself. For example, finish task A and B by X time and task C and D by Y time. This way, you’re not rushing around trying to finish tasks A, B, C and D by X time.
As mentioned in a HBR.org article, multitasking “gives you something to turn to when you’re stuck.” So when you think you’ve hit a bit of a brick wall, you can switch to something else until you feel you’re ready to go back to your first task.
Although multitasking can be one of those things we do unconsciously, trying to attempt too many things in a limited amount of time can end up costing you in the long run. Arguments for both sides have their merits, but it will ultimately come down to knowing when you need to find your focus.