Archive for February, 2011

Time Management Challenges-Ineffective Multi-Tasking

Time Management Challenges-Ineffective Multi-Tasking

As women, we often snicker at the whole concept of multi-tasking. Who hasn’t had several pans on the stove while answering the phone, opening the mail, switching loads of laundry and making a kid’s snack – all at the same time? The only way to make it through each day is to double and triple our efforts in the same time slot. Is this the most effective way to function? Maybe not, but it is often the most efficient way for us.

This is not to suggest that men do not multi-task. I am merely suggesting that multi-tasking is often so second-nature to women that we don’t even give ourselves credit for what we do accomplish in a day. In fact, more often than not, we beat ourselves up for not getting enough done that day! 

There is a difference in the effectiveness when multi-tasking in a setting where we really need to focus on content and details. Those household tasks described above have become learned patterns or habits so our brain often does not have to fully focus on what we are doing. It is like driving the car. You don’t really think about each action you take to start the car, buckle up, adjust your position, back out, etc. But you do think about specific actions such as checking behind you when you back up, watching for other vehicles and signals, etc. This group of tasks requires your focus.

Recently it has been reported that multi-tasking does not make us more efficient. It is suggested that we have less satisfactory results than we would have if we would just focus on one thing at a time. Carnegie Mellon University researcher Professor Marcel Just used MRI imaging to study what happens in the brain when a person multi-tasks. He measured the number of “brain units” that were activated when subjects performed tasks separately and then at the same time.

The results indicated that when the subjects took each task individually, 37 brain units in different areas were activated for each of the two tasks. When the subjects combined the tasks as in multi-tasking, only 42 units were activated. This indicated a 44% reduction from a total of 74 units (37 from each task) when the tasks were done separately.

What does this mean for those of us who multi-task frequently? We could experience: 

  • reduced efficiency
  • lower levels of performance
  • mistakes
  • forgetfulness
  • less than desirable outcomes
  • frustration
  • exhaustion
  • stress

To function at our highest level, we should approach important tasks one task at a time. It is important to set aside a specific time when you will not allow interruptions. Make an “appointment” with yourself – actually write it down in your planner or Outlook calendar. Then keep the appointment just as you would if you were meeting someone else. Now go out there and focus on one important thing at a time and let others know you will handle the next task later. Here’s to your effectiveness!