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The Art of Multi-tasking

Everyone that I know, including myself have been taught that being able to juggle lots of tasks mean that you are the best worker. It all started one day while attending a management meeting – sending a quick email or text message while a colleague was presenting, checking my Instagram account in the middle of a phone call or looking at Facebook during lunch with a business partner. Even checking emails in bed or posting on social media when I am so sleepy my eyes are crossed. Has any of these things happened to you?

One morning last week I got a wakeup call that gave me good reason to pause. My toothbrush is set up to alert me when to brush a different section of the teeth in my mouth. While trying to brush, I found myself looking at social media sites on my phone, glancing at my calendar to see what meetings I had for the day and week, jotting notes down for a marketing meeting with a client, thinking about what food I would have for breakfast, would I have an espresso or a cafe mocha, choosing an outfit, reviewing my media presentation, and trying to confirm dinner reservations. Like a bolt of lightening, it hit me that I had become a multi-tasking idiot with lots of balls in the air that were starting to fall on my head. That's when I realised the need to slow down is imperative for survival.

Multi-tasking seems like a great way to get a lot done at once. But research has shown that our brains are not nearly as good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think they are. In fact, some researchers suggest that multi-tasking can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40%. Further studies reveal that when trying to accomplish several items on our to-do lists contribute to increased levels of stress throughout the course of our project tasks.

Like many, I would boast about my skills to manage many major public relations and marketing contracts, bounce around from client to client, and meet with friends and colleagues for cocktails and food after each day of working overtime. At the time I thought that being praised my the leadership team was an outstanding achievement, until even more was expected of me.

Employers have long been encouraging multi-tasking as a way of increasing employee productivity, but research shows it may do more harm than good. Several studies have shown that high multi-taskers experience greater problems focusing on important and complicated tasks, memory impairment of new subject matter, difficulty learning new material, and increased stress levels. This can ultimately lead to problems in delivering a company’s products and services efficiently and competitively.

So is multi-tasking a negative thing? Well, being able to balance a number of assignments and tasks is a good thing, but not everyone has the mindset to keep it going for too long before one of the balls drop. Overall, multi-tasking can reduce the quality of your work and well-being. After long-term shuffling of projects, one could become confused about key details involving certain projects, mostly because the brain is overworking itself. A couple of years ago I can remember presenting on strategies to promote a product. Someone on the team had a dazed look and interrupted me to attack that nothing was wrong with the way promotions had been done for the past 20 years. The faces on the other team members ranged from utter horror and shock to disgust. Very calmly I said to my colleague, "Please relax Jim, that's not the campaign that is being talked about today, although strategies used 20 years ago weren't my choice then, but certainly wouldn't be my choice today." Embarrassed, he simply sat back down with a confused look, but never apologised for his rudeness.

In a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers determined that heavy media multi-taskers are more susceptible to distractions from irrelevant stimuli, resulting in greater problems focusing on important tasks. Employees are bombarded with numerous distractions throughout the workday, from email to social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. Distracted employees can quickly lose focus on important tasks, often resulting in the loss of creativity and innovation.

Further studies show a negative physical effect in the body. It's possible to experience a release of stress hormones and adrenaline in the bodies. The result can often became a vicious cycle of constant multi-tasking, requiring more time to complete a longer list of tasks, experiencing high stress. A constant high stress level can result in the illness of employees, a high rate of absenteeism, and a decrease in overall work productivity.

So what is recommended to ease the stress that multi-tasking can bring to many employees?

  • Encourage managers to give their staff realistic and manageable work commitments. When work gets overwhelming, it's a great opportunity to hire temporary staff to help reduce the workload.

  • Everyone should be reminded to take time away from the computer screen at least every 45 minutes, even if it means just taking a walk around the office or looking out of a window. This may allow time for the eyes, mind and body to relax.

  • Practice or learn time management skills. Over the years of working in public relations and marketing, one amazing book helped me to stay focused on project goals and objectives. The book is called, One Minute Manager. Now, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson have updated it to introduce powerful, important lessons to a new generation. In their concise, easy-to-read story, they teach us three very practical secrets about leading others—and explain why these techniques continue to work so well.

At Promotions West, we encourage our team to work together to jot down their goals, objectives and deadlines. As recommended by the New One Minute Manager, we review each goal and what needs to be accomplished each day for a few minutes. We stress the importance of having a balanced personal and work life. Our goal is to enjoy the work we are doing and the life we are living.

For more information please email me at or visit our website.

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