The mistake of multitasking

With so many plates to keep spinning at once, there are occasions when you feel that the job title on your business card should read “circus performer.”

However, studies have shown that multitasking doesn’t work. In fact, doing multiple tasks at once can have a detriment on productivity, according to the American Psychological Association.

“Multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error,” the group states in a research article.

Anne Grinols, assistant dean at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business, has published research on multitasking and identified three myths.

  • Myth: People believe they can focus on two mental activities at once.

“Conscious mental activity happens one activity at a time,” Grinols said. “As my research showed, people going back and forth between two conscious mental activities… lose some time and efficiency of brain function that robs them of effective accomplishment.”

  • Myth: People believe they can go back and forth between mental activities and stay on top of both of them.

“People who say they can multitask think they are saying that they can accomplish more than others because they can focus on more than one thing at once. However, multitasking can also be seen as a negative. I think this is because efforts to multitask have had unfortunate results: poor outcomes and burnout of those trying to do it for extended periods of time,” Grinols said.

  • Myth: People believe they can monitor themselves as they attempt to multitask.

“Unfortunately, most of us do not monitor ourselves as well as we think we do. If your current assignments are to develop a new strategy to accomplish a goal and also to participate in a team meeting, don’t start thinking about the strategy as you sit in the meeting or your active participation in the meeting… will suffer. You must focus on each one separately to be able to succeed at an optimal level at both,” Grinols said.

Multitasking refers to an effort, and most employers are more interested in outcomes. Job seekers may not even want to use the term “multitasking” on a resume, but instead indicate expertise in multiple areas and timeliness.




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