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Talking Your Team Down from Multitasking

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Mon Nov 17 2014

Talking Your Team Down from Multitasking
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Multitasking has long been revered as a strong marker of employee capability, competence, and versatility. Those who can juggle best are considered company assets, and multitasking is a quality often listed as a requirement in job postings. Unfortunately, though, the truth about multitasking is much more troublesome. 

Did you know that of all the information we are bombarded with throughout a given day, our short-term memory can only sustainably retain three to five pieces of information at once? Now think of how many separate pieces of information pertain to a single task. 

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The mechanics of short-term memory are simply not built for multitasking. In order to try and keep all of our proverbial ducks in row, we disconnect from social interaction and divide the sum of our focus into so many fractioned parts. Co-worker relationships suffer, as does the quality of our work, and our stress level goes through the roof. 

Multitasking can actually change our brain, making it not only harmful, but completely unsustainable. How can we begin to approach the multitasking issue in a corporate culture that so relies upon it? For starters, you can share some of the following facts: 

  • Multitasking actually takes more time and achieves fewer results.

  • With the divided focus required during multitasking, no single task receives the attention it deserves, leading to poor-quality output.

  • High-payoff activities are sidelined by less important busy work.

  • High stress levels contribute to an unhappy, unhealthy workplace. 

Once you’ve identified the problem and garnered some initial interest in the topic among your co-workers, it is then important to focus on solutions. Because multitasking is hurting the company and its workers, what can be done to work more healthily and happily while improving productivity? Here are some suggestions. 

1. Focus on priorities. In business, it’s all about getting the job done—whatever the job may be. In a state of extreme stress and seemingly necessitated multitasking, the company’s priorities may be getting the short end of the stick while its employees are busily acting and reacting in stress mode.

Decide which tasks can wait and don’t waste time and energy multitasking busy work when sharp focus is needed on an important project. Put a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign outside your workspace if it will help you to avoid interruptions. 

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2. Map out your day (or week). Do you have big deadlines looming? You can’t do everything at once. Set aside five to 10 minutes at the beginning and end of your day to identify and plan for the tasks that you MUST accomplish.

Mapping out your day or week in this way will not only empower you to achieve your goals, it will also soothe stress and release you from the pressure of having to keep everything floating in and out of your short-term memory. 

3. Reinvent the wheel. What does this mean for your company? I’m talking about examining “the way things are done” and asking important questions like: 

  • Are we focused on high-payoff activities?

  • Are we balancing the workload appropriately amongst our team members?

  • What changes would help our workers be the most productive (as opposed to busy)”? 

These are big questions, and you may or may not personally be the one to direct this conversation. That said, all companies appreciate getting the best from their workers, so consider planting this seed in the appropriate ear. 

In the end, businesses want results and people want to succeed and be happy. Minimizing multitasking will help to achieve both. We spend so much of our lives working, so why not make it a more pleasant, more productive, and more successful experience? Little shifts can result in great changes. So close your browser, log off of Facebook, turn off your email notification, and focus. You’ll be amazed at the results.

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