The Great Debate: Multitasking or Single Tasking?

Multi Tasker shutterstock_429084004.jpgImagine your phone is ringing off the hook and your email inbox is filling up faster than Usain Bolt on the 100 meter dash.  Would it be more productive to (a) respond to emails while talking on the phone or (b) block out all distractions and focus on replying to emails?

If you said “A” then you might identify as a multi-tasker, or someone who performs several tasks at once. Juggling numerous activities may make you feel productive and able to accomplish more throughout the day. Multitasking is a longstanding practice; however studies suggest that it may reduce efficiency by as much as 40% [1]. Essentially, your brain is split deciding which task to give the most attention, and cannot give the same level of focus to each one.

Many people say multitasking is actually “serial tasking”, or rapidly shifting from one task to the next. For example, when you stop typing an email to answer the phone, then hang-up and review your calendar for upcoming meetings before returning back to the email, you aren’t fully engaged in each task simultaneously. As it turns out, trying to do too much at once may actually make you less productive, which brings us to option “B”.

When your “To Do List” is ever-growing, it may actually be more beneficial to focus on each singular task until completion. The increased focus given to each task may help you finish it sooner than if your attention was divided among everything on the list. And remember, to help you stay focused on the task at hand, it is also important to recharge. Take a break and check out Take Five: How to Break the Workstation Chain” for more tips and techniques on how to be productive at work.



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