Multitasking: The Art of Handling Many with the Efficiency of One

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Most of us have ‘multitasking’ as one of our skills on our CVs. Ask yourself right now, do I really know what multitasking is and am I really good at it as I profess?

So what really is multitasking?

multitasking

Multitasking is the process of tackling more than one task at the same time, while maintaining equal concentration, focus and productivity on each task. This means you are not just doing multiple tasks but doing them as expected and achieving the desired results or each.

Is everyone Good at Multitasking?

Scientists argue that the human brain is not capable of doing multiple tasks simultaneously. The brain can only concentrate on one task at a time and that even what people consider multitasking is simply switching between tasks really fast. Now that changes the perception of multitasking, doesn’t it? And it does make more sense. Think of it this way, when you text during a movie, you actually miss parts of the movie as your mind formulates the text. You cannot actually follow the movie and still compose a coherent text.

Now that we know multitasking is switching fast between tasks, let’s talk about effectiveness and productivity. Switching between tasks successfully depends on a number of things like; the complexity of the tasks, the length of multitasking, your current performance levels, how related these tasks are, among other factors. For instance, it is easy to talk to someone while typing a text or an article on your computer. You however cannot tell a whole story or fully communicate for a long time while still typing. At some point you are likely to type out parts of your conversation or mix up your stories. That has happened to you, right?

Now that we understand the basics of multitasking, how do ensure that switching tasks is effective and productive in the workplace and not a waste of time and a source of distractions for you?

How to Multitask Strategically

Understand How Your Brain Works

Honestly, do you consider yourself a good multitasker? If you know it is a challenge for you to think about two tasks let alone implement them, you might want to learn before wasting time. You can however learn simple ways of learning how to below.  If switching between tasks is easy for you, you just need to learn how to optimize the process.

Plan in Advance

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Multitasking is only productive if you plan around it. If you keep dropping tasks and picking others up because ‘something urgent came up’ you will have a very unproductive day. Identify the tasks ahead of you and plan around them. Try and break these tasks into smaller components so that your multitasking takes care of each component.

Tasks that Require Thinking Shouldn’t be Multitasked

Thinking requires the complete use of your brain. Avoid switching in between tasks when a task that requires a lot of thinking is involved. Finish such tasks first then multitask simpler tasks. You will have better results and won’t need to go through over the task many times because you made mistakes.

Prioritize Tasks

multitasking - prioritizing

Once you have a list of the tasks you wish to work on, you now need to segment them according to complexity, urgency and ease of switching between them. Remember to leave tasks that require thinking as stand-alones because they require more concentration.

Sizable Segmentation of Tasks

Just because you can switch between tasks doesn’t mean that you do it every five minutes. The cognitive cost of switching between tasks every few minutes and trying to remember what you were doing is very costly.  You will end up wasting a lot of time and doing very little. Segment your tasks into chunks of around 30 minutes each. This will ensure that you commit sufficient commitment to tasks and ultimately complete them effectively.

Shut Out Distractions

multitasking - manage distractions

Imagine switching in between tasks and at the same time giving chunks of that time to distractions like emails, texts, social media and colleagues who stop by your desk. Switching in between tasks is already a distraction because you always need around 68 seconds to remember what you were doing. When you add distractions to this mix it becomes a cocktail recipe for wasting time. Avoid distractions and set aside time to do things like checking emails or engaging colleagues.

Coordinate Related Tasks

Multitasking is easier when you are seamlessly switching in between related tasks. It is also more productive. Picture this, you need to analyze some numbers, report on latest performance and then send the reports to stakeholders involved. Wouldn’t it be easier to analyze each component, create a report on it then highlight the communication aspect of it? That way, if there are 10 components to work on, you will be seamlessly switching between analysis, reporting and finally highlight important sections. This requires you to identify the individual components of each task as mentioned above.

Multitasking Made Simple

As mentioned, multitasking is a skill that gets better with time and practice. Now that you understand the basics and strategies to doing it right, you are better placed to identify when you are doing it right and when you need to take a step back and reorganize. What do you think?

Doreen Mueke
Doreen is the Senior Content Marketer at Ringier One Africa Media.