In the past, I’ve felt overwhelmed with work and have found myself double tasking. I’ve read that some people can do this and do both(or more) tasks at the same time and do them well. However, I keep making mistakes and end up doing both tasks badly.
Double-tasking, known by many as multitasking, is not a modern phenomenon. People who drive and listen to the radio at the same time have been double-tasking for years. However, as people have become expected to do more and more at work the phenomenon has extended in recent years into work life and for many people home life as well. There is also an urban myth that while men can’t multitask all women excel at it.
Multitasking has been described as a ‘mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.’ Research has shown that it is difficult, if not impossible, to learn new information while engaging in multitasking. Studies on how multitasking affects academic success found that students who engaged in high levels of multitasking reported significant issues with their academic work. Using Facebook and text messaging while studying were negatively related to student grades, while interestingly, online searching and emailing were not.
When I worked in academia, meetings were frequent and long and many attendees were double-tasking; following the discussion and reading and responding to emails on their laptops. People used laptops because they could pretend they were looking at the meeting agenda. This lack of attention to the business of the meeting led to some poor decision making.
It is also interesting that when I gave students permission to multitask during my teaching sessions i.e. listen to me speak, check their social media and/or their emails, which I had seen many of them doing for weeks, most of them stopped multitasking and chose only to listen to me speak.
It is now clear from research on how brains work that a person can only be effective at one task at a time. Working on more than one task at a time blocks access to subconscious capabilities that could bring out a person’s full potential. Multitasking blocks access to information flowing from the environment and from memory and the creative subconscious. When these channels are blocked, mistakes follow and a person will be less effective at the tasks they are trying to complete.
These steps could help stop double-tasking:
- Stop double-tasking. Make a conscious decision to stop double-tasking.
- Don’t take a phone or a laptop to meetings. Print out things you might need during a meeting and then recycle them afterwards.
- Be self-aware and if you catch yourself double-tasking decide which one is the most important and do that one.
- When you feel the need to double-task take a pause. Take a look at your schedule, find a gap and allocate that time for the task you dropped.
Handle one task at a time, focus on it, give it your all, and do it to the best of your ability. Once you are finished start on the next one. Don’t kid yourself otherwise.