You Can’t Actually Multitask At Work - Do This Instead

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Multitasking involves working on two or more tasks simultaneously, switching back and forth from one thing to another, believing we are achieving greater efficiency. 

 


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“But we are just kidding ourselves, “ said Linda Trim Linda Trim, Director at Giant Leap, one of SA’s largest workplace design consultancies. 

“You can’t multitask. Our brains are wired to do just one cognitively demanding thing at a time. We tell ourselves we’re multitasking, when what we’re actually doing is task-switching, rapidly shifting from one thing to the next. 

“As we switch, our minds struggle as we try to recall where we were and what we were doing. Juggling tasks makes us less creative and more prone to errors; the quality of our work suffers.” 

Multitasking leads to what psychologists call "task switch costs," or the negative effects that come from switching from task to task. We encounter task switch costs - like a slower working pace - because of the increased mental demand that's associated with jumping from one thing to another.

“For better workplace productivity, we need to make a deliberate effort to get back to monotasking—doing one thing at a time.” 

The first step is weaning ourselves from distraction. Not only do our phones, notifications, calls and colleagues disturb us, we’ve even grown to crave their interruptions. 

So what should we do? 

Set your inbox to batch incoming messages every 10 or 15 minutes. Turn off all your notifications  And try a version focus in small bursts. Set a timer for 20 to 30  minutes of deep work on one thing, then take a five-minute break.

“It can help knowing that a built-in break is always ahead. Feel free to do anything you want in the break—watch cat videos, grab a cup of coffee— as long as it’s not the task you’re focused on. You’ll be refreshed when you dive back in,” Trim advised.  

Office design created for different kinds of work also helps. 

“It’s important to design an office where employees can freely work and move without disturbing others. Overcrowding is linked to poor performance. So it’s important to always ensure that workers have a buffer zone in which their personal space is safe where they can focus. 

One of the particular challenges of open space layouts is noise management. 

“Office modularity can be used  to cancel noise. Noise-reduction moveable walls or demountable glass walls can easily adapt to bigger office settings and open up new and private working spaces that can reduce distractions and reduce the propensity to hop from one task to another,” said Trim. 

High-quality furniture might be one of the best investments for an office because it makes employees happier and less prone to typical workplace ailments such as neck, back and shoulder pains, often a cause of breaking up focused work. 

“Adjustable elements allow workers to adjust their workspaces to meet their needs while flexible furniture creates different space types for impromptu meetings, workshops or solo work,” Trim concluded. 

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