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Multitasking - How Much Is Too Much?

Dec 8, 2007
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines "multitasking" as: the performance of multiple tasks at one time. But is this really necessary for optimal productivity? Is there a better solution?

The problem with multitasking, as it's oftentimes described, is that most misunderstand how our brains work. The human mind is very much like a computer; we work more efficiently when our minds are focused on one task at a time. The more tasks we attempt to accomplish concurrently, the less productive we become. But we are still forced to survive in a world where we feel forced into handling more than one task at a time. But going back to the computer analogy, we can see that this is counterproductive.

I happen to work in an office and I experience firsthand what a "multitasking environment" does to people. It leaves employees feeling drained. When so much is place upon a person and phone calls, e-mails, and various other little "fires" are added to the list of distractions, productivity decreases and customer service is sacrificed. There always seems to be an unspoken competition of who can take on more work without complaining. And the ones that do complain are labeled as being lazy or incompetent. "They need to work on their multitasking skills" is the usual retort that is parroted by fellow employees and management.

So we've established the fact that humans are poor multitaskers. Wheat can be done, then, to survive in a world where a distracted work environment (a.k.a. a multitask oriented environment) is the norm? By listing tasks by priority. Humans might not be good at directing our attention several ways at once, but we are very good at doing one thing after the next. So instead of fighting against nature, work with it! The people who are seen as "master multitaskers" are actually adept at organizing tasks by order of importance. They put their whole focus into what they are doing at the present moment. These masters of multitasking can instantly assess a completely chaotic situation and bring calm and order. They thrive in situations in which they can delegate tasks. They seem to be "born" with a knack for organizing.

But is multitasking only an inborn trait that only a few select individuals have? Hardly. Just like typing, multitasking is a skill that can be developed. But just like typing, you can develop bad habits as well. Learning how to place things in order of importance is quite difficult when one has to compete with little things trying to grab your focus.

I remember a story I heard about a teacher instructing a class about time management. He takes out a large jar and fills it with rocks. He asks the class "Is the jar full?" The class responds that yes, the jar is full. He then pours pebbles into the jar, filling the gaps around the rocks. He asks again if the jar is full. The class confirms yet again that the jar is full. He then pours sand into the jar, which fills in the areas around the pebbles. He asks again if the jar is full. The class is on to him by now, and responds by saying that the jar is not full. The teacher then pours water in the jar and asks about the fullness of the jar again. When he and his students finally agree that nothing else can be added, he asks, "So what does this demonstration show us?" One of his students says, "It shows us that no matter how full our schedules are, there's still room to squeeze in more." "Not quite," the teacher replies. "It goes to show that if you don't make room for the big things first, you'll never be able to get them in."

When properly done, doing tasks in order of importance will increase productivity without sacrificing quality or customer service. The key is to remember what tasks are truly important and those which are just a distraction. Finding the balance between the two is what will increase your productivity. Because there will be necessary distractions (phone calls, etc) that will need to be taken care of as they happen. But by putting "first things first" you will be able to get back on track faster and be in a better position to improve your business or boost your productivity at your job.
About the Author
Kelvin Wilson is owner of KelWilson.com, a work at home resource. To find the best home based business ideas and opportunities so you can work at home visit: KelWilson.com
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