2 Much @ Once

Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task. I myself am one of the worst, as I don’t feel I accomplish much of anything unless it takes place while accomplishing something else at the same time. When two or even three tasks are finished at the same time, I don’t just feel productive; I feel uber-productive. But does multi-tasking really benefit our professional and personal lives in the long term?

Study after study has been conducted to assess the effectiveness of performing more than one task at once. In the end, and much to the dismay of the professional “do-it-all-at-once-er”, the studies have shown that taking on more than one or two tasks at once are indeed counterproductive. More times than not, one could have finished one task faster and with a better outcome than one who does two or more (but don’t tell your chef that).

Of course, there are the obvious drawbacks to certain forms of multi-tasking. Just ask Jordyn Lucas, the supposed first person to receive a traffic ticket for texting while driving. She will be one of the first people to advocate some things just should not be done at the same time, much like smoking while gassing up your vehicle. But what about at work? You’ve got your boss on the phone asking for an update on one project while finalizing an email to a coworker regarding yesterday’s football game while wrapping up a note to another coworker about tomorrow’s big meeting with some new vendors. Chances are, someone is going to get the wrong information.

The effects of multi-tasking are readily apparent when you look at the day as a whole. Like many people, I come in first thing in the morning, plan out what all needs to be accomplished for the day, then like a kid at the pool, I dive head first into all of those items. Nine hours later, I emerge from my “task swim” and realize, oh my, I only got half of every item done! Not a single thing got finished, and if it did, it needs to be looked at later for editing or even redoing. What have I accomplished?

Sometimes multi-tasking works…or at least you think it does. Sure, some people are good at it, able to take on 4 or 5 different items concurrently. You bet, you can get them all done in the day, maybe even before lunch. And yes, those tasks may even be completely lacking in errors or oversights. We all know those people. Or do we? Odds are, those tasks took too long to complete, have errors, AND were not worked on alone. In fact, many multi-taskers are adept at delegating work to those people around them working on a single item. How dare those “single-taskers” slack off like that!

The lesson learned from all this is, no matter how good you think you are at juggling more than one task at a time, the human brain is only capable of performing a single action. What you consider multi-tasking is actually your brain switching back and forth over a period of time. Eventually, a ball is gonna get dropped. Just hope it does not land on your professional career.

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Filed under Career, Project Management

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