Multitasking: A Growing Necessity in the Workplace

Tara Ballenger, a writing correspondent for The Boston Globe, recently reported on the rising need of the ability to multitask in today’s technology-driven world. But does multitasking hinder our ability to perform tasks successfully and proficiently?

Ballenger describes the hectic lifestyle of Lillian Dunlap, a 25-year-old working woman at a Boston public relations firm. Dunlap’s days are consumed with fielding emergency emails for one business, while writing press releases for another and juggling phone calls from everyone. The ability to multitask is imperative in order for her to get her job done and keep her clients happy. Dunlap says that “in today’s corporate culture and competitive job market, the person willing to take on the most jobs gets ahead. Every client has 10,000 things they need done, and with all the new technology, we’re expected to always be on call.”

Switching around from task to task may be what the job requires, but what effect does this “toggling” of tasks have on our ability to perform at our best? In a 2001 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, David Meyer and his colleagues discovered that valuable time is lost in transitioning from task to task. “The brain must refocus each time it switches activities, and the more complicated the task, the more time it takes to refocus.” These little increments of time add up and soon one might be losing hours out of his or her day.

Performing multiple tasks at one time is inevitable, but there are ways to go about completing your work that save on “brain drain.”

Here are some tips:

  • Choose easy tasks: Combining activities such as sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office and answering e-mails on your hand-held is fine because one of the tasks is so easy.
  • The fewer the switches, the better: Time and attention are lost each time you toggle between activities. If you’re working on an important project, checking your e-mail every half hour instead of every 10 minutes will cut down on inefficiency.
  • Know yourself: Everyone multitasks differently. Experiment with watching TV, listening to music or texting while completing other tasks, and pay attention to which ones affect your work.
  • Know others: If you’re successfully multitasking with the TV or radio playing, make sure that others in the room aren’t being hindered by it.
  • Practice paying attention: Constant multitasking may cause your brain to “forget” how to concentrate intensely on just one activity, which is a useful skill.

Ultimately, the lesson to be learned here is that although some jobs, like public relations, require that you have the ability to multitask, it is still important to give your brain a healthy rest. Becoming overloaded may result in major errors or inability to retain important information.

To read the full article by Tara Ballenger, click here.

This guest blog was written by PRowl Public Relations staff member, Amanda Kaster.

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