Multi-tasking is not what it’s all cracked up to be.

Must We Multi-task? Maybe It’s Better Not To.

After all, multi-tasking is not what it’s all cracked up to be.

As I deliver sessions at seminars and conferences throughout North America in every kind of business you can think of, I often encounter people who are pleased, even proud, that they can multi-task.

What about you? Do you regularly multi-task, such as reading emails while someone is talking to you on the telephone?

I believe that our obsession with technology is creating a lot of stress in our lives. Multi-tasking using these various technologies just makes it worse.

Consider these examples:

  1. Statistics show nearly half of all Americans keep a computer at home primarily as a means to stay in touch or catch up with business while they are out of the office.
  2. 90% of American adults own a cell phone. (64% own a smartphone.)
  3. 67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts or calls – even when they don’t notice ringing or vibrating.
  4. 44% of cell owners sleep with their phone next to their bed.
  5. Hardly a movie, play or public event can be enjoyed without the interruption of someone’s phone.

Bottom line: We can actually be less effective, create mistakes, feel less happy and be less customer-service oriented when we multi-task. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Focus on a single project. Don’t be tempted to jump back and forth to incoming e-mails when you should be finishing a project.
  • Leave a voice-mail message that specifies the times you will not be able to return to phone calls.
  • Give co-workers your undivided attention when they speak to you face-to-face at your desk. Take notes, if needed.
  • When you are on the telephone, listen to understand the caller’s needs rather than read mail, collate papers, etc.
  • Try your best not be distracted by activity around you, such as co-workers chitchatting.
  • To counteract other stress in the workplace, make an honest inventory of how you spend your time. Rearrange your work and schedule to get the best results in the shortest period of time.

So remember, this week – avoid multi-tasking! Multi-tasking is not what it’s cracked up to be. Keep your focus on what you are doing, and you will do a great job plus feel less stress. Try it. You might like it.

What are your thoughts on this? I usually get a lot of feedback from proud multi-taskers when I write on this subject. I’m eager to hear from you.

Joan Burge

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6 thoughts on “Multi-tasking is not what it’s all cracked up to be.”

  1. I like the comments above. It makes sense to not multi-task. I do have the problem of trying to two or more things at once, that is what I was taught to do. I will still have to do “the quick switch between tasks” as one comment states, cannot avoid it in my position.

  2. Quick switch between tasks is actually what it should be called and that is what is effective. I have realised that when one multi-tasks (especially on more than two tasks), they are prone to making more mistakes and compromising customer care, where it involves a face-to-face. This costs time and reputation on the professional and institution.

  3. I saw part of a series about how the brain works that shows it is actually impossible for people to multi-task. What you are really proud of is your ability to switch quickly from one thing to another.

  4. I find multi-tasking to be a hindrance. I have noticed that the people I work with that claim to multi-task always have mistakes in their written work, they miss important information with callers requesting information, or they are asking callers to repeat themselves numerous times. Multi-taskers are easily distracted instead of being more efficient, not to mention their people skills are not the best either. I find multi-taskers spend more time trying to complete the task you’re asking them about instead of listening to how to do it correctly, creating more mistakes.

  5. I used to be one of those proud multi-taskers. I am now totally converted to focusing on one task at a time. This doesn’t mean that I’m never interrupted, because that isn’t true. Once the interruption is resolved I’m right back at what I started. I find that I am not as flustered and fewer mistakes are made. I also make a concerted effort to avoid my cell phone and computer after work. That is my “me” time and I use it to read a book or other relaxing activity!

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