Multitasking: Is It Really Worth It?

ability to multitask

Today, more than ever, our lives are being pulled into a million directions. That’s why we develop skills to help meet the demands of our modern lives and cope with everything coming at us.

For retailers, multitasking (performing more than one task at the same time) is necessary, because there are physical and mental demands that require them to switch from task-to-task. A good example of this is reading sales reports while addressing a problem with a vendor on the phone, then leaving your desk, still on the phone, to help an employee in the stock room.

Disadvantages Outweigh the Advantages

Our ability to multitask saves time and energy. But, when it comes to more complex responsibilities, extensive research has shown that tasks take much longer and more mistakes are made when we are multitasking. If researchers have found that people can rarely do more than one thing at the same time, then why do we still do it? Because, we choose to do simple things involving less risk, like talking on the phone while cooking. What about more complex tasks? The drawbacks are more severe than you might think.

You Forget Things

When working on a task, we use our short-term memory to organize our thoughts and process information. But our brains have limits with how much short-term information they can store. Once it’s filled, there’s no more room. Daily distractions break our concentration and inundate our thinking. Less important tasks end up filling our short-term memory, which affects our ability to recall information later.

Our short-term memory is also a staging area for long-term memory. We process information between our short- and long-term memory, which allows us to store it away for later. So, if you’re talking on the phone with a vendor while writing sales reports, you will retain fragments of information, which may not be enough to recall later when dealing with a problem.

Multitasking Is Stressful

Ever try juggling? For a novice, it’s exciting and frustrating to try and keep all of the balls in the air. Why? Because our bodies release stress hormones and adrenaline. This makes us feel alert and more confident. These are good things unless they continue over long periods of time.

Our bodies need to recover from high levels of stress or else we feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Exhaustion leads to mental errors and physical accidents that add more stress to our lives. It’s a snowball effect, and it has negative consequences, leading to physical and emotional fatigue.

Loss of Productivity

We think we are being more efficient as we move from one thing to the next, but it requires additional time to get oriented and working again. Experts call this “switching time.” Studies have found that it takes 15 minutes or more to re-engage with complicated tasks, such as writing reports. That’s where we lose productivity. Plus, refocusing our minds on something else takes a lot of mental energy, which leaves us exhausted at the end of the day.

Take a Break

Keeping yourself focused is the key. If you do, you’ll be more efficient, remember things better, and feel less stressed out. A quick break like a walk around the block or grabbing a cup of coffee between tasks allows your mind to reset properly. You can also let your employees know that not everything is a fire. This will reduce interruptions during your day and allow you to stay on task.

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