Watching television, solving algebra problems and messaging your friend at the same time or travelling home from work, trying to sort out your files while instructing the housekeeper simultaneously - if this evokes a feeling of déjà-vu, then you probably belong to the species of 'multitaskers', people who try to do many tasks at the same time. A lot of studies have been done on the effectiveness of multitasking and whether it's desirable or not.
IT HAS been shown that multitasking is not as workable when the tasks require you to concentrate. In fact, studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time. Many researchers believe that action planning represents a "bottleneck", in which the human brain can only perform one task at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell has gone so far as to describe multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”
With the advent of social media, text messaging or checking up on Facebook
updates every few minutes while carrying out regular tasks has become common. Even if you claim to be able to do more than one task, in reality performance does get hindered. The American Psychological Association cites a study that found that multitasking causes an estimated 40 per cent drop in productivity for people, and Stanford University researchers found that multitaskers are less productive than their single-minded counterparts, and also suffer from weaker self-control.
Multitasking in the workplace leads to reduced job performance and increased stress. According to researchers, multitasking doesn’t exist in reality. The human brain can truly only do one thing at a time, so even if we think we're saving time by doing two things at once, we're really just switching our focus back and forth repeatedly, which can be exhausting. In order to cope well with all the tasks assigned to you especially in jobs you need to focus on one project at a time. However, this does not mean that you cannot focus on other tasks. In this case planning is essential. First, priorities need to be decided. The most important task needs to be taken up first and when it gets too tiresome you can switch to other tasks. So if you are out of ideas on your powerpoint presentation and need a breather, you can check your blackberry for e-mails or go through some papers that you need to sign. In this way, you can concentrate on all your tasks and also increase productivity on each task. Another advantage is that by planning and organizing your work, it becomes easier to avoid the last minute frenzy.
Take the case of Ashutosh, who is 26 years old; he was just starting out in his work place. Eager to please everybody he took up lots of things at once and couldn’t do anything in his desired way. His stress levels were at an all-time high, and he no longer enjoyed his job. Taking the advice of a senior colleague he realized that biting off more than you can chew is not a wise idea. Thus, he spoke to his boss about his workload, planned his tasks and could cope much better with his work pressure than before.Though we all feel that we can take on more than one thing at a time and there are a million journals, books and magazines instructing us on ‘10 best ways to multitask’, you know there is only one best way- not to multitask.
(This column has research contributed by Aastha Sethi.)
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About The Author
Mrs. ANU GOEL is a Counselling Psychologist. She has practiced in Mumbai for 5 years, and is currently practicing in Delhi since the last 7 years. Goel, who can be contacted at 9313320146 and firstname.lastname@example.org, is a member of the Counsellor's Association of India, and has been a guest speaker on several occasions.