Multitasking: The good and the not so good!

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Up until recently, I viewed having the ability to multitask to be a commended skill. I saw myself as a multitasker and often used this skill to sell myself whilst at university and when applying for jobs. 

I was under the assumption that employers looked for this skill in candidates; that they wanted to work with people who could juggle a vast number of tasks without getting irate, confused or frazzled.  

I listened to a motivational speaker the other day and the subject was about your top three priorities.  Apparantely we should create a list of our priorities for the year, highlight our top three and scrap the remainder.  If one has too many tasks, they will give little focus to any, bringing mediocre outcomes, at best to each. 

This resonated with me. I am a do-er and receive much satisfaction from crossing off completed tasks.   I know for a fact that I “carry” too much. I also have a tendency to try to kill five birds with one stone! I fill pockets of time with tasks that I tell myself will only take two minutes. If cooking a dish that requires close attention, I will wander off to carry out another task then run back to check the food. I have a low attention span so a part of me probably enjoys moving from one task to another. It keeps the adrenalin going!

Let us look at a few pros and cons of multitasking;

Positives
1. Assists one in dealing with delays and interruptions 

2. It prevents boredom as it brings variety

3. One can move more than one project forward, even if with very minimal progress 

4. One can cope in a hectic environment 

Negatives
1. Slows progress as it takes more mentally to complete several tasks

2.  Less quality work as less time is spent on each

3. More time taken to remember where you last finished 

4. Less effective decision making 

What is your take on multitasking?

Is it a given that one should possess this skill whether in paid employment or running their own business?  

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30 thoughts on “Multitasking: The good and the not so good!”

  1. Just remember you’re multitasking all the time folks. Breathing, beating your heart, digesting food, using basic or complex motor skills to move….your brain has the capacity. Lets not forget the 5 senses. We’ be a pretty short lived species if we weren’t able to multitask for survival in our environments.
    Perhaps a definition of ‘multitask’ is required?

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    1. Our bodies can carry out various functions with little or no input from us. These cannot be compared to doing physical or mental tasks.

      Multitasking – the ability to carry out more than one task at the same time.

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  2. Do you need to be a multitasker in paid employment? Sometimes yes, sometimes no – it will all depend on what kind of job you have.

    Once upon a time I ran an undergraduate organic chemistry lab. This was a gig that required me to multitask in that I had to simultaneously keep track of three weeks’ worth of experiments, i.e., the current week’s experiment, the previous week’s experiment, and the following week’s experiment. It was every bit as stressful as it sounds.

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  3. I think the reasoning so much was given to Multitasking is it came from the lack of employees.
    When a company, does not want to hire more employees, they place more and more jobs on those who remain.
    I know this is true in my gov job as well. With states, and local, governments reducing pensions and increasing health costs, we lost many who went back to the private sector.
    Now, those of use remaining there, have more jobs to do.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  4. Phoenicia — when people say they are multi-tasking, they are really switching between tasks. It may happen very quickly but I don’t believe you can focus on two distinct tasks at the same time. The problem is that you don’t do justice to either task because you don’t devote enough thought to either one.

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  5. I have learned, and probably re-learned, to stop multi-tasking except for the mundane. Example is house cleaning. It’s so boring, that dusting and vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom and by the way is the kitchen floor dry yet? All at one time in a flurry of activity.

    But when it comes to the important stuff, like my writing. I know to shut out all the distractions. I make sure my workspace is clear and that the other projects are out of my line of sight. Then I devote time until I complete that goal, then I move on.

    It is SO hard to be disciplined like that. But I have seen better results and that makes me happy!

    Good luck!

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  6. Multitasking is like wide neckties, it comes in and out of fashion. Seems like not so long ago that people trumpeted their ability to multitask as a sign of competence and in fact job qualifications would often include the phrase “ability to multitask.” Now, not so much. Multitasking more likley is viewed as synonymous with distraction. Who knows?

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  7. I agree with Sabrina also. Our brains aren’t set up to focus on more than one thing at a time. Look at all the car accidents that happen when people are trying to look at their phone, change the radio station, put on makeup, and so on. But we CAN do something like walking outside while listening to headphones, or reading while walking on a treadmill, or knitting while watching TV.

    As a single parent, I had to juggle work, school, parenting, and running a household all at one time. I think many single parents can relate to how difficult this can be. But what is the alternative? Give up going to school? Quit working and lose your home? No, those aren’t desired alternatives.

    As a retiree, now I have a lot more freedom to concentrate on what I am interested in. I don’t have to multi-task unless I want to. I can devote attention serially to my part-time work, hobbies, social activities, and keeping the household going. Retirement is much more relaxing than my harried younger years!

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    1. As you say some tasks can be doubled up, causing no more pressure, for example listening to a teaching whilst doing housework. Others require more concentration.

      I can relate to your experience as a single parent as my mother raised us alone. She was the father, mother, cook, nurse, teacher etc. There was nobody to share the responsibility with and that in itself is

    2. challenging.

      Now, like you, my mother has the freedom to do those things that she always wanted to do. The juggling of many things is no more.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Phoenicia, when I was working I was a super multi-tasker – even on the drive to work I would record my to-do list for the day. No time wasted. However, I always started work at least two hours before anyone else arrived to concentrate on one particular task – whether is was writing up a grant or organizing an event – those types of activities needed full concentration so I guess I made the best of both worlds – multi-tasking and task oriented.

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    1. I think Lenie makes a great point just because you can multitask doesn’t mean you can ONLY multitask. Like most things you need to be able to do both!.

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  9. I am a multi-tasker, but I also think multi-tasking is often a bad thing. Many work environments foster multi-tasking in the extreme. Time and productivity are actually lost to shifting gears and remembering where we were. Some tasks benefit from uninterrupted concentration.

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  10. As far as I’m concerned multi tasking is essential when you are in a leading position. It’s simply not possible otherwise. Mind you most people find it difficult because you have to be an expert generalist to handle multi tasking.

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  11. I’ve read a number of studies about multitasking and as a rule the studies site more cons than pros. Of course that doesn’t keep me from multitasking, but I try to be smart about it, if that even makes sense.

    I get very bored working on one project for long periods, so I dedicate blocks of time to a particular task, and then set it aside and move on to something else. This works particularly well for me when it comes to writing, because taking breaks helps me to refresh my thinking. For example I make a point of giving myself a day between finishing an article and publishing it so I can revisit it with fresh eyes for one last edit. Not the most scientific approach, but it works for me.

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  12. Phoenicia it’s such a sham (I do mean sham) that people this multi-tasking is a way to be productive. It’s just never been found to be so in any studies. When I was writing my last book, I found more studies than I was aware. The thing is, we more introverted KNOW there is something wrong with this approach. Focus, that’s the way to more creativity and productivity and a lot less stress.

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  13. I think multitasking should be as follows: Doing one task that needs your attention and the other task that does not. For example, I would read articles while waiting for my child to finish her dance class. I would listen to an audio book about self-improvement and take a walk outside. I do not believe you can do two tasks that need concentration at the same time and be productive. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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