Which method ensures better efficiency and productivity? The ability to prioritize, organize your own work, or plan strategically is often desired by employers. When the number of responsibilities increases and the supervisor expects quick results, it is worth considering whether you will achieve better outcomes by performing multiple tasks simultaneously or by focusing on only one thing at a time. Let’s find out!
Multitasking vs single tasking – table of contents:
- What is multitasking?
- Single tasking: an alternative to multitasking
- How to single task?
- Multitasking vs single tasking
What is multitasking?
Multitasking can be understood in two ways. First, it is associated with divisibility of attention, thanks to which a person can perform multiple tasks at the same time, such as responding to an email from a client while attending a team meeting and chatting with co-workers. Multitasking can also be equated with the ability to quickly switch between individual duties.
Is multitasking effective? According to the study, the results of which were presented in the publication “Supertaskers: Profiles in extraordinary multitasking ability,” only 2.5% of participants successfully performed multiple tasks simultaneously. The rest showed significant declines in performance.
Cynthia Kubu, a neuropsychologist, confirms that the human brain is capable of focusing on performing only one task at a time: “When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing two things at once. But instead, we’re doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching.”
Another study, this time by researchers from the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) in Paris, shows how multitasking affects the prefrontal cortex. When performing a single task, both sides of the prefrontal cortex work together. When multiple tasks are carried out at the same time, the sides of the brain begin to work independently, leading to memory problems, resulting in lower performance and an increased number of errors.
If performing multiple tasks simultaneously is inefficient, how is it possible that a person can, for example, eat dinner, scroll social media and listen to the radio at the same time? The answer lies in the engagement level of the prefrontal cortex – activities that we perform automatically (such as walking) put less strain on it than, for example, driving a car.
Single tasking: an alternative to multitasking
What to do instead of multitasking? Well, single tasking can be an alternative to multitasking. It involves focusing on only one task at a time. This method has a positive impact not only on productivity, but also on the human body. So what are the benefits of single tasking?
- Higher efficiency – putting energy into completing one task ensures that it will be done thoroughly, so the risk of making a mistake is reduced.
- Better concentration – the ability to focus on a specific task, allows you to achieve better results. This applies not only to professional duties, but also to relationships. For example, concentration, or “being here and now” when meeting with friends lets you enjoy the moment more.
- Fewer distractions – focusing on one task makes it a priority, and external distractions are automatically eliminated.
- Greater control – “switching” between tasks leaves a person distracted from work, making it more difficult for them to later measure the effects of their efforts, or the time they spent on a task.
- Reduced stress levels – single tasking increases the probability of actually completing a given task. It also boosts satisfaction and reduces stress levels as the employee no longer has to think about when and how to finish it.
How to single task?
Before you start work, decide which tasks are at the top of your priority list. Use the Eisenhower matrix which will help you determine which issues are urgent and need immediate attention, and which can be addressed later. Once you’ve set the priority of tasks, create your own to-do list. This is one of the features that Firmbee provides. This system allows you not only to write down your responsibilities, but also to prioritize them, give them statuses and deadlines.
Learn how to manage your time
There are various techniques that help you better manage your time by breaking down large tasks into smaller ones that can be completed in full focus in a short period of time. An example is the Pomodoro technique, which is based on working in cyclical blocks of time. The most common division is to do a task for 25 minutes, and then take a 5-minute break. After four blocks, it is recommended to have a longer break.
Blocking out distractions also helps you focus better. To this end, it’s a good idea to turn off all notifications and leave websites that distract you from your work. Of course, some co-workers may expect an immediate response to their message. You should then notify others in advance that you need to focus on the task at hand and ask them not to disturb you while you’re doing it. Such situations also teach you how to set healthy boundaries. Leaders might also consider introducing or at least further educating employees on the subject of asynchronous communication.
Use the project management system
Project management software has many features that can be used to organize your work. First of all, with the help of Kanban boards, a team can work together to define tasks, set their priorities and statuses, assign employees responsible for completing them, or set deadlines. A person with assigned tasks can write them on their own to-do list, then individually and successively complete them, and mark them as completed.
Practice active listening
Active listening helps you focus on the other person and remember as much as possible from the meeting. Thanks to this practice, not only do you show respect to the other person, but you can also better understand the discussed issues, as well as avoid mistakes and misunderstandings. So it’s a good idea to put away distracting devices (phone, laptop, etc.) when attending a meeting, and preferably leave them in another room. During online discussions, it’s also a good idea to turn off all the unnecessary tabs in your web browser.
Multitasking vs single tasking
It’s not difficult to notice that multitasking and single tasking are completely different methods of performing tasks. In the table below, we’re presenting the basic differences.
|Working on several tasks simultaneously, or the ability to quickly “switch” between them
|Working on only one task at a time
|A wide scope of work
|A narrow scope of work, focus on one task only
|The possibility of making more mistakes due to lower concentration
|Lower risk of making mistakes
|A large number of mistakes means worse results and lower efficiency and productivity
|A small number of mistakes means better results and higher efficiency and productivity
|It’s more difficult to track progress
|It’s easier to track the progress of the task at hand
|It’s harder to prioritize tasks
|The ability to prioritize tasks is essential, the most important duties are done first
|Faster progress across multiple projects
|Slower progress across multiple projects due to focus on single tasks
|Slower execution of specific tasks due to frequent “switching” between them
|Faster completion of a particular task – all attention and energy is devoted to it
Today, multitasking is a desirable skill by employers, mostly because it is associated with greater productivity and efficiency. As studies show, the relationship is quite the opposite. By constantly switching between tasks, being unable to prioritize and organize your work, and being frequently distracted, an employee’s efficiency can be significantly reduced, and there is a greater risk of making mistakes, which again require time and energy to correct.
Of course, in some situations and for some people, multitasking can be an ideal solution. However, it is worth remembering that only a small percentage of the population have the right aptitude for it.
It is also crucial to change the attitude towards single-tasking and reject the opinion that it is an inferior method. In numerous publications, articles and blogs, you can read about its positive effects on work, as well as on health. So it can be an ideal alternative for people who don’t want to feel so much pressure and stress, and instead want to feel satisfied with the completion of specific tasks.
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