Multitasking – perilous or productive?

Have you ever felt like you’ve been rushed off your feet all day, while at the same time being frustrated that you’ve only achieved half of what you planned to do? It could be that you’re falling victim to the perils of multitasking.

So what are the dangers?

The risks of trying to keep too many plates spinning at one time are two-fold: firstly, you may find yourself wasting time rushing between those plates and trying to keep them all up; secondly, your creativity will be hampered by dividing attention between too many tasks.

There’s also the increased risk of making mistakes, as your attention is diluted. Crucial facts may be missed, and the quality of your work as an adviser could be compromised.

The problem stems from the fact that our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time – we work best when we do one task properly, complete that one, move on to the next, and so on. When we try and do several things concurrently, errors creep in and each task takes longer to do. We may be able to complete several simple tasks at a time, but it’s much harder to carry out complex tasks in parallel.

Did you know research by McKinsey shows that, contrary to popular belief, frequent multi-taskers are usually the least productive? So if you thought you were managing quite well at multitasking, the truth may be quite the opposite!

Research also shows that we innovate and think better when we concentrate in depth on one project, rather than flitting between two or more. It helps us make the mental connections we need to reach a conclusion we may not have found otherwise, whilst giving our brains the space to think more creatively.

Be aware! The distraction provided by modern technology can become addictive. How many of us will instantly reach for the mobile when it rings or beeps, even if we’re deep in thought on something else? It’s hard to resist I know, but it’s worth trying to stay on task.

A bit of self-coaching

Coaching is a great way to help you reflect on your own style and approach in order to increase your personal performance and effectiveness. So, here is a small selection of self-coaching questions that may help you reflect on your own situation, and prompt some changes in your approach.

  • How well are my diary and daily appointments structured to enable me to devote enough time to my most important and thought-heavy tasks?
  • How often am I being distracted from these tasks by other, less important jobs, which I could stop doing or delegate to someone else?
  • Do I have sufficient time in the day where I can be on my own, uninterrupted by anything else, devoted to thought and consideration?
  • Are my email, phone systems and other communications devices set up to enable me to concentrate and focus on the job in hand?

Value your time

As ever, it’s about working smarter, not harder. It is about taking control of your time, rather than allowing events to take over. In your role as an adviser, I encourage you to value your time and recognise the benefits of making space in the day for quality thought, focused on those tasks which only you can do.

What is your experience of the perils of multitasking? Please share any strategies that helped you improve your effectiveness.

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