I’ve always considered myself a proficient multi-tasker until recently when I started experiencing there were moments in which I was physically unable to focus completely on a certain task, or refocusing on another. So I thought it was time for a self-intervention and work on a new productivity strategy: the single-multi combination.
There are tasks, and tasks, that can efficiently be performed at the same time. Automatic actions such as walking, talking, chewing gum, listening to music can be coupled with others occasionally. But they can also be considered distracting factors.
Technology plays an important part in our ability to multi-task. We now should be able to text while we talk, drive while listening to music and read while watching tv. But even simple and routinary tasks like these may demand a higher degree of attention over the rest. Dealing with more than one or two things at a time might require quick changes in focus and reactions at some point.
Let’s think about the most common example of multi-tasking: you’re on the phone talking to a friend while cooking and the TV is on with one of your favorite shows. The action of speaking is automatic, specially during a relaxed phone conversation with a familiar person and you don’t need to concentrate much, so that one would be easy to handle and will behave as a background action. Then you have cooking; even if you’re cooking a dish that you know by heart, this should require more attention. You don’t want your food to burn, right? And then you have the TV; that little background noise that acts as the distracting factor.
This example of multi-tasking is the easiest to perform and in most cases everything works out without complications, only if your main focus is on the cooking part. So if you master this, chances are that you’ll become pretty good at multi-tasking.
Although the ability to multi-task can be positive for getting more done in less time, it can be a negative factor as far as productivity is concerned. It is important to handle several tasks at a time but it is even more important to be able to develop focus and concentration for certain tasks that demand our full attention in order to complete them.
Being a multi-tasker myself, I’m always concerned at my five year old doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that in a short period of time. I feel he might not make the most of specific activities, as his attention tends to jump from one thing to another in a matter of minutes and nothing gets completed. This is why we try to maintain a blocks system at home, similar to what we were used to at school. First period: English. Second period: Math. Recess. And so on, but with a less strict approach at home of course. First period: play. Second period: shower. Third period: dine. Fourth period: watch TV. Bed. It turns out to be a productive routine where he enjoys every task (lately the shower part a little less). And on weekends? All fun and games! 😉
Multi-tasking at work has become essential these days and not always acting on behalf of an employee’s productivity. It’s even considered to be counterproductive for a team’s performance. However, due to the economic outlooks, companies feel inclined to hire employees with more flexible profiles, who adapt to a wide variety of tasks. On the positive side, knowledge, skills and experience might be improved but on the negative side, constantly jumping between tasks usually results in loss of focus, making it harder to refocus on a main task at hand.
But in conclusion, and to answer the question on this article’s title “Multi-tasking Vs. Single Tasking” we should be able to perform both efficiently. We’re presented with different scenarios every day and we need to be prepared to adapt to all manner of situations. Resourcefulness, thoroughness, organization and compromise are key factors for higher productivity at all levels and in every aspect of our lives.