Today’s article is a guest post from Wendy Stoneman.
You’re busy. You’ve got 12 things on your To-Do List. All of them have to get done today. In the middle of working down your list, the phone rings, emails messages come in, people stop by with requests – it’s a typical workday. That’s ok, you’re an excellent multitasker, right? You pride yourself on being able to get everything done – often at the same time. Here’s the bad news: you can’t actually multitask, and you’re less efficient for trying.
According to research, (yes, someone gets paid to study these sorts of things) what you’re really doing is serial tasking. You’re making high speed shifts in focus from one thing to another. Except in very special circumstances, the human brain just isn’t physically capable of fully focusing on more than one thing at a time. Each time you make a switch, you lose time. The more complex the task, the longer it takes to make the switch.
In some cases, the time costs of frequent switching are significant. Dr. David Meyer of the University of Michigan specializes in the study of what happens in the brain when a person tries to multitask. In a CNN interview Dr. Meyer reports that his study of the time costs of shifting can be “anywhere from 25 to 50 percent time increment to complete a task compared to what would be involved if you were to only concentrate on that task.”
In addition to the complexity of the tasks affecting your mental resources, the number of tasks you’re trying to juggle at the same time is also important. For each task you take on, you have less resources available to give it. Obviously, your results will reflect this lack of focus.
So what’s a busy admin to do? Your work isn’t going to change, and you still have those 12 things to do. Research shows that when you can dedicate 100% of your focus to one thing at a time, you’ll be done quicker and your work will be more accurate. When you’ve got a big project or a complex task, it pays to ignore other distractions. Don’t answer every email the second it comes in. Let the phone go to voice mail. Although you may not believe it, your company won’t go out of business if you’re unavailable for an hour.
Of course, you can’t isolate yourself for every project, but then some projects are more important than others. By prioritizing the truly important tasks and focusing completely on those – one at a time – you will improve your work product.
Fact check my quote at: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0108/05/tonight.02.html
Wendy Stoneman lives in Vienna, Virginia, and works at a mid-size law firm in nearby Fairfax, VA, where she is a legal secretary in the corporate law division. Wendy has worked in administrative roles for over 15 years in multiple industries all over the country. See Wendy’s previous Guest Posts here.