Multi-tasking is defined by Wikipedia as “the ability of a person to perform more than one task at the same time”. Initially, this sounds like a skill we would all like to excel in but does it really serve us well?

We all know how important listening skills are. We’re reminded to remain attentive, paraphrase what we’ve heard, not to interrupt, and look for underlying messages. How effective a listener are we when we’re doing more than one task at a time?

We also strive to deliver quality; multi-tasking can impact both.

To do two things at once is to do neither.
–Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus, 100 B.C.

Multi-tasking: Help or Hindrance?

Studies show that when we multi-task, instead of saving time, we’re more than likely wasting time. This is due to the need to “switch gears” which is linked to a higher error rate and insufficient attention to detail.

Not only is multi-tasking linked to a higher likelihood of errors, but it also affects how happy we feel. We may think we’re getting more done, but our level of stress actually increases and our satisfaction levels are reduced.

Many of us suffer from information overload and have the need to do “more” at a quicker pace, but the key to being truly productive is to stay focused on the task at hand and remember that our true priorities are those linked with achieving our goals.

What Studies Have Shown and What May Help You Decide

Multi-tasking has been criticized as a hindrance to completing tasks and feeling happy.

We’re stressing people out with multi tasking demands; over time it will cause further decline in our health and performance. If we keep it up, the brain gets confused and looks for default mechanisms. It becomes hard to focus; we take shortcuts.
–Jordan Grafman, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Maryland

You may think you excel at multi-tasking, but here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you feel anxious when doing it?
  • Have you ever forgotten to include a necessary attachment or link in an email?
  • Have you been asked questions when on calls or in meetings and had to be asked a second time?

Some simple tasks can be done simultaneously. The key is to determine when you must remain focused, versus knowing when short-cuts will have favorable results!