The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

MULTITASKING – THE POSSIBILITIES AND PITFALLS OF DOING TOO MUCH AT ONCE





Individuals able to accomplish several tasks at one time often feel as though everyone should be able to do the same. After all, what competent person should not be able to talk on the phone while reading a book and watching television? A growing body of evidence indicates that many people trying to accomplish more than one project at a time may actually be less efficient than those “slow dinosaurs” preferring to complete one task before moving on to the next. Before expecting people to juggle three balls at a time, without dropping one, consider the following:

1) People who multitask can be less efficient than those who complete one project then move on to the next because shifting focus can increase the complexity of the task.
2) When people shift from one task to the next, it is usually because they need a break or run into a dead end. Returning to the task too soon requires the brain to shift gears AND overcome the reasons you shifted focus.
3) Managing two mental tasks, particularly with the same part of your brain, reduces the available brainpower for either task.

Short-term memory loss or changes in your ability to concentrate are signals that you may have pushed too far or tried to do too many things at one time.

Is there a secret that those who can effectively coordinate several projects at a time have discovered? Is there any “brain exercise” make it more “fit” to function in an efficient, multitasking manner? If they wish to, people can improve their ability to accomplish several things at once by consciously performing one of several intentional acts.

1) Meditation, or other exercises that allow for the willful control of one’s mental focus, helps improve the brain’s ability to shift gears. Being able to “compartmentalize” issues, moving smoothly from one to the next, is a result of selective focus.
2) Weeding out distractions helps one focus on the important things without chasing red herrings. It is tough to listen to your favorite song on the radio while carrying on a conversation as you are using the same part of your brain for two things. It is much easier to look at a beautiful picture and discuss it because you are using two different parts of your brain.
3) Whenever doing two tasks at once, or even when switching between tasks, try to avoid shifting between similar activities. The more different tasks are (i.e., changing from developing a budget to taking a plant tour), the easier it will be to switch “mental focus” back and forth without distraction.
4) The more often a person does a task, the less thought it takes to perform it. Practice not only “makes perfect,” it frees up more of the brain to do other things, as less thought is required.

Is it wrong to multitask? I think not. Is it right to expect everyone to do it? Probably not, but if you want to push just a bit, think about a person’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning style before expecting them to accomplish several activities at one time. If you want others to handle more than one thing at a time, help them to focus, compartmentalize, and move on to a completely new and different task (even if it is not yet finished) rather than fretting about things not yet accomplished when “abandoning” the last project. Remember, even parallel paths appear to cross as they stretch into the horizon. As long as you keep moving forward – without stopping - all things will eventually come to fruition EVEN IF they are not “finished” before you begin something new!