Is Multitasking At Work A Bad Idea?

One of the biggest buzzwords around when it comes to job applications seems to be “multitasking.” This has only become more true as our technologically savvy population has come to embrace the idea of doing more and more at a time. Many of us are used to juggling multiple tasks at once, especially those which are internet-based. Is multitasking actually a good thing, though, or does it have severe drawbacks? Recent scientific studies have started to demonstrate that multitasking actually does have some negative effects.

According to a recent scientific research study reported by PBS and run by Clifford Nass, there are some things which multitaskers are significantly worse at doing than those who focus on one thing at a time. Lots of multitasking can apparently lead a person to be bad at filtering information (figuring out what’s relevant amid a lot of irrelevant data). Multitasking can lead to poor organizational skills, and can also make it hard to leave one task behind when starting another.

The study did rely on self identification of multitaskers, and took place when multitaskers weren’t multitasking, so it’s possible that there are some confounding factors. Maybe the kinds of people who are attracted to multitasking are already a little mentally scattered to begin with. Perhaps it’s not a cause-and-effect relationship. Right now it’s too early to say.

It does cast doubt on this idea that being good at multitasking necessarily means that you’re good at lots of other things which are important in the workplace though. As more research sheds light on the possibility that multitasking may not be all it’s cracked up to be, we may find that the popularity of “multitasking” as a buzz word starts to flag. If that happens, there may be fewer employers who respond positively to it on resumes and in interviews.

One way you might deal with this when applying for jobs is to say something like this in your interview: “I’m great at multitasking but I also have excellent concentration skills and can easily transition from one task to another. When it’s time to do multiple things at once, I can do that, but when it’s time to really focus on one project, I am equally capable.” This might help to alleviate some of the hiring manager’s doubts about whether multitasking is actually making you a less effective worker.

This is just the surface of the issue, though. You should also think about whether multitasking is really helping you out, both in the office and outside of it. Are you really more efficient because you manage multiple tasks at once? Or does it just mean that you’re unable to give your full attention and effort to any of them? Do you ever work to your fullest capacity? Are you able to put your “all” into any of your projects? Think about how you work and how it impacts your life. Every person has a unique style for accomplishing tasks which suits him or her best. Figure out what yours is and then work to your highest efficiency.

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  1. Sandy Underwood says:

    I am so happy that this type of article (and others) are being published to point out the shortcomings of “multi-tasking” and that it is not a one-size-fits-all way to conduct business. I have often felt that the expectation is there to do more with less resources but the cost can be that there is not a true focus on what is important. If we are not given the latitude to focus when needed, we are losing a lot in efficiency and quality.

    • Stephanie Upton says:

      I agree that in a perfect work “multi-tasking” would not be required. As a Sr. Executive Assistant I would not have a job if I was not an exceptional at multi-tasking. I wish we had the choice of just stopping and focusing on one task or assignment, but that rarely if ever is the case. It’s possible that as we get away from Executives having their phones answered, and I have seen this happen more and more just this past year, we will not have to pull away to a constant ringing phone. This one issue alone makes multi-tasking necessary. I would love to be able to truly focus and give my undivided attention to one project. Also as a SEC we have constant interruptions as co-workers ask for direction or assistance. Often I will have to list to a supervisor when I will have a project or report completed based on the other 10 things I am being asked to complete. Although, I think in a perfect world multi-tasking will go away and result in more efficiency, I don’t think this is possible in our current work culture.

  2. Alison Wood says:

    From what I have researched, I don’t actually think the ability to multi-task is actually possible. You can be doing many things at once but what you are really doing, is swapping between each one very quickly. In my experience it hinders performance unless you are extremely focused. I don’t like interruptions because I forget things!

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