People often say there is not enough time to get everything done. Could your workday be more productive if you had been multitasking? Would the quality of the work be significantly decreased? Only 2% of the population can multitask, which is defined as the ability to perform two or more tasks simultaneously (Gupta, 2016). The rest of us are shifting focus exceedingly fast, as fast as a tenth of a second (Gupta, 2016). “For the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time” explains neuroscientist Earl Miller (2008). It’s partially because “similar tasks compete to use the same part of the brain” (Hamilton, 2008). To be able to multitask is a genetic gift and cannot be learned.
Humans can “shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed” (Miller, 2008) and sharpen one sense while dulling another to maximize our performance in the moment. An example is dulling out background noise and optimizing visual information, such as our computers. It is not multitasking but still increases focus and productivity.
An important note is that when “reconfiguring control settings for a new task, there is often the need to remember where you got to in the task to which you are returning and to decide which task to change to, when” (Nick Yeung, S Monsell 2003). Taking the time to put a “start here” note on something you will have to come back to could save you a lot of time overall. “Subtle switching costs cut efficiency, raise risk” according to the American Psychological Association. The amount of time we lose while switching gears is largely dependent on our familiarity with the task and its complexity (APA, 2006). Meaning many of the novel situations a person in operations deals with daily, would require complete focus. You may be wondering how much the switching costs effect our work output. “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time” (Evans, Meyer, Rubinstein, 2001).
The Tocci staff work in a bustling open office and put out fires all day while attempting to focus on larger overall goals. This office is a collaborative workspace where many interruptions often occur to prevent bottlenecks in the work flow. In order to thrive in our given environment and keep up productivity, we need to think about how we can eliminate multitasking. There are strong arguments for keeping distractions to a minimum. By considering how much noise we make and turning phone ringers down or muting computers, we can start to create a more productive environment. Time and effort can also be saved if we work to switch tasks as little as possible and leave reminder notes to signal where to resume on any given task.
National Public Radio. (October 10, 2008). Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. Hamilton, Jon., Miller, Earl. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794
American Psychological Association. (March 20, 2006). Multitasking: Switching Costs. Rubinstein, J., Evans, J., Meyer, D, Yeung, N. & Monsell, S. http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx
Cable News Network. (August 1, 2016). Your Brain on Multitasking. Gupta, Sanjay. https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/09/health/your-brain-multitasking/index.html