Multitasking – truth or myth?

Multitasking is an issue which has just as many opponents as proponents. There are opinions that there is no way several tasks can be performed simultaneously and well at the same time, but there are also studies that show that multitasking seems to have a beneficial effect on the human brain and productivity. Is that truly so? Is there a recipe for performing more tasks at the same time? Maybe the technological solutions that we have access to can help? Let’s find out.

Man and machine

For many of us multitasking means doing several activities at once. For example: we are talking with a client on the phone while filling in an agreement. We are answering an e-mail while creating a presentation. We are driving a bike while writing a text message. We can summon quite a lot of such more or less abstract examples. However, it happens that two activities performed at once fit together and there are actually people who, for example, write a text and listen to music at the same time and the combination of these two activities has an effect on the quality of the text. A lot of writers and other artists stimulate their brains to act this way. Nevertheless, a vendor’s attempt to do the same in an enterprise may turn out to be unsuccessful.

Can we, in such a case, speak about multitasking at work at all? After all, recruiters value attention divisibility in interviewed job candidates and employees are happy that they can listen to music or read a newspaper during work. It is true that such behaviour improves their frame of mind, but it may hugely affect their working speed and quality. According to scientific studies show, for instance studies conducted at the University in Stanford and Ohio, multitasking often leads to stressful situations, undermines our motivation and has a negative impact our frame of mind.

At the same time, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review published an article indicating that some activities performed with the accompaniment of music or other stimuli were more effective. This is the above example of artists who create while music plays in the background. However, one must remember that artistic professions often do not require fast work but work that will finally be of high quality.

Let’s look at the machines, then. It seems that our computers perform dozens, if not millions, of calculations all at the same time. However, It is not exactly like that. Each and every process is allocated its section of time and though we think that a computer performs a lot of tasks simultaneously, the actual secret lies in queuing tasks, switching between them and providing them with appropriate resources.

10 things at once

When we take a closer look at our tasks and duties, we will see that our multitasking does not, in fact, translate to efficiency. Let’s treat every single task as a separate project. Phone calls are one of them, sending e-mails and responding to them is another, preparing an offer or a report is yet another one. We might be surprised by an unexpected talk with a client, which count as yet another task. And though conducting a few projects at the same time stimulates our brain to make an effort, all this will make it overload. The divisibility of attention diminishes permanently, we are distracted quicker and the so-called “background noises” deconcentrate us more.

However, every coin has two sides. If we learn how to manage tasks and time appropriately, not only will we complete all the activities, even if slightly distracted, but we will also increase our motivation and efficiency more easily. Acting in this mode improves productivity and sense of self-esteem and boosts our competence. It follows that multitasking can be both a positive and negative stimulus at work. It all depends on how we plan out our working day.

Calendar and pen or perhaps a project management system?

In fact, every tool allowing us to easily manage tasks and determine their order will be useful for us. Running a small enterprise and having a certain list of tasks, we can try to record them on a calendar and strike out every one that has been completed. A lot of people mark the level of importance or difficulty on a given task because this way it is easier to determine which one can be performed at a given time.

For our actions to really have sense, we must:

  • plan the order of tasks and secure the time needed to perform them;
  • at end of the day, analyse which tasks were performed and stricken out, which were transferred for the following day and how many of them require additional work. Establishing priorities will simplify performance of all of them;
  • record comments, ideas and important information – notebook or calendar is our ally here;
  • work under conditions that are optimal for us. If we cannot focus in open space, maybe headphones with music will be helpful or a closed off conference room;
  • try to complete individual tasks and only then go on to tackle other ones;
  • do not be online and on every beck and call all the time and because this will distract you quickly. Peeking at the laptop screen and a tab with Facebook every minute or tapping on the phone screen effectively affect our productivity;
  • work in time blocks, for instance plan that for the next 30 minutes you will check the outstanding mail, make some phone calls or focus on other tasks. Task groups consist of a lot of little matters to cover, which in and of themselves take a few minutes each, but when we combine them, they will take several dozen minutes even. Focusing on them and striking them out on the checklist of gives a lot of satisfaction.

Help from ICP

There are many programmes for managing tasks on the market. ICP is one of them. What we gain when we use it? Primarily, we can rewrite all projects to specific time frames: the programme itself will remind us that we must complete a given task and start another one on the list. Secondly, tools of this type allow to share projects with other people, to adjust schedule of our actions for other people etc. Please remember that software for managing projects often combines a mailbox, notebook, meeting calendar and an address and phone base. Therefore, all tools which are most important in everyday work are at hand, waiting in one place. For more information on ICP and solutions of this type, contact our specialists.

Let’s not fall into the trap of many tasks

As you can see, multitasking can have its positive sides. Attention divisibility and combination of work and relaxing factors allow the artists to create unique works. However, in everyday office work, we do not always have such an option to cut off from the outside world with our headphones. For some people, lack of such an option will cause them to be even less productive. However, it is not as bad as it sounds because the working manner and productivity depends on the organisational culture as well, which is different in each and every enterprise. As for project management tools, they are useful regardless of how we work because they can teach us how to systematise and queue tasks. Why not use them, then?

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