NACA BLOG - Is Multitasking Productive? - 5/18/2021

​May 18, 2021
Brenda Baker
NACA Director of Finance & Operations

For the past several decades, there have been many who insist that multitasking, doing several things at the same time, is a way to increase productivity. One contributing factor has been the advancement and proliferation of technology. With electronic devices helping us think and accomplish, doesn't it stand to reason that we can be more productive and efficient by performing simultaneous tasks? Some people think so and take pride in honing the skill of multitasking. But does it really improve productivity or are there negative outcomes to making multitasking a habit?

I was intrigued by some articles I read recently about the downside of multitasking. One such article titled "7 Reasons You Should stop Multitasking & Actually Get Things Done" highlighted some reasons why doing one thing at a time can actually be more efficient and productive.

The main reason multitasking can be counterproductive is it is hard to pay attention or remember information when switching from one job to another. Your mind is never focused on any one task. Over time you lose the ability to concentrate, which leads to more mistakes. Giving each task full attention minimizes the risk.

A 2011 University of California, San Francisco research study revealed how shifting from one task to another adversely impacts short term memory. This was supported by a key finding in a study published in Nature which showed that "media multitasking" may impair young adults' attention and recall. Another study at the University of California, Irvine, found that interrupted work also produces anxiety.

Other negative results include inhibited creativity because of too little time to engage your working memory. And you end up wasting time you are trying to save because your mind has to reset to each task following the shift.

The power of multitasking is a modern-day myth that has never produced the efficiency and quality of work it has sometimes gotten credit for. Some better ways to increase productivity and reduce stress are structuring your tasks so that you alternate highly creative tasks with tasks that require less focus.

It also helps to "unplug" for periods of time, removing the distractions of email and other media so that you can concentrate. This also has the benefit of establishing expectations. Others will soon learn that certain times of the day you are offline to focus on important projects and tasks.

If you are in an environment where you are bombarded by a stream of electronic media, it may be difficult to change your work habits overnight. But establishing a practice of working on a single task at a time will lead to more productivity and less stress. Concentrating on the work at hand will also strengthen your short-term memory. Put the myth of the power of multitasking aside and practice a more realistic way to be productive at your work.

Brenda Baker is the director of finance and operations at the National Association for Campus Activities. Baker has dedicated her 40-year career to managing associations' financial resources and services.

Related Professional Competency: Professional Development

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