Productivity, Work Culture

Multitasking at work – good or bad?

By on August 5, 2016

Ever get the feeling you are juggling way too many balls in the air? Relax. You are not the only one. Of course here we are speaking metaphorically.

Consider a situation which is common to a majority of people. You are driving to work which is probably at peak traffic time in the morning. You have a coffee in one hand while you also listen to music. You are tempted to either check your phone for messages or mail. It has been observed that concentrating on so many things while driving is quite harmful and has led to many accidents.

The main reason here is that we fail to understand that not everyone is good at multitasking. Studies have shown that only 2% of people can multitask efficiently. That means a staggering 98% struggle to balance multiple tasks at a time.

Technology has largely been responsible for enabling us to take on multiple responsibilities at any given point of time. You can be on a video conference, take down minutes of the meeting and simultaneously tweet any thought that comes to you. It is easy to just sit in one place and yet perform a variety of roles.

Though does that really make you efficient? You may have the ways to multitask but is it recommended that you do so?

It may appear that you are being productive but results show otherwise.

Disadvantages of multitasking:

Increase stress levels:

In purely scientific terms, the area in the brain most involved with multitasking is the one most likely to be affected by stress. The prefrontal cortex helps to assess tasks, prioritize them and assign mental resources. It has the ability to remember where we left and resume at the same point at a later time. This area is affected by prolonged stress.

When the mind understands that a variety of tasks are to be performed in a particular time, there is immense pressure on it. It can get really stressful as it is not possible to use your brain in the most efficient manner every single time. There are high chances of a breakdown.

Lack of focus:

When you handle many responsibilities at one time, you are not able to give your complete attention to one task. The prime focus is here on ‘finishing’ all the task within the stipulated time. Whereas it should be the other way round. Every task should be given a dedicated time and your complete focus should be on that particular task.

You can’t meditate and watch the news at the same time. Meditation would require you to shut down all brain activity and focus on calming yourself. If you are watching the news at the same time, you can’t expect your mind to be calm without any reaction!

Prioritisation becomes difficult:

Multitasking does not allow you to prioritise. You may be performing the most important task of the day along with the most mundane. Not every task is equally important.

Most successful people say that they create a to-do list either a day before or early morning to plan out their day in more efficient manner. They begin with the most important or difficult task and gradually move on to other task according to their priority.

Loss of productivity:

What happens when you bite off more than you can chew? You choke!

Similarly if you perform many activities at the same time, you are bound to make mistakes. Say any task that required you to finish in 3 hours with complete dedication would now take 5-6 hours as you give time simultaneously to 3-4 other tasks. Switching between tasks is not easy and that too takes considerable time. So while it may appear that you are being productive, you are actually wasting precious time that otherwise would have been used productively!

In an attempt to display how productive they can be, employees take up more tasks than they can handle and demonstrate the exact opposite. Develop a happy and productive work culture wherein managers encourage employees to perform better and in an efficient manner.

Wastage of time and money:

Add to this the use of smartphones and inadvertently everyone multitasks one way or the other. The urge to be connected is so high that it is estimated on average people check their phone 46 times per day (Source ). Given that an average employee salary is $30/hour, and if 5 minutes are spent per hour on cell phones, for a 100 employees, the cost would be approximately $2010 per day! Not to mention collectively that would be 4000 minutes.

Multitasking is a skill very few have been able to master. It would be wise for most of us to focus on one activity at time and then move to another.

So instead of being the jack of all trades, be the master of one at a time!


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