There’s no such thing as multi-tasking

May 8th, 2017

multiple balloonsMany of us have discussed the ability to multi-task and that age-old generalisation “women are better at multi-tasking than men”. From the ways I’ve worked and all the people I’ve worked with, I’m more convinced than ever that none of us actually multi-tasks.

I think that some of us are better at breaking our work into small chunks, working on each small chunk independently and remembering where we left off, to pick it up again later. Anecdotally, it seems women are somewhat better at doing this than men – if anyone has any logical, scientific evidence, I’d be interested in seeing it.

For me, there’s an issue about our ability to concentrate and ignore all interruptions. The advent of headphones at work has helped many people focus more easily on tasks, whether they have music playing, or simply to diminish the outside noise or reduce the interruptions as the headphones put some people off from interrupting, as if they had a sign on their back “please do not disturb”. Maybe it depends how much of an auditory person you are; I’m probably far more visual than auditory and can ignore sounds around me fairly well, if I want to. However, I’m also interested in the people and work around me (nosey, yes) so I will sometimes pay attention to others, when I maybe should be concentrating on what I am doing.

I’m sure a former colleague of mine suggested a system of hats or signs on the back of chairs, to indicate whether or not you can be disturbed. Some people have the knack of very politely ignoring all who approach them when busy and others find it harder, then they allow unwanted interruptions and lose their train of thought and the flow of work.

As I said, I’d be interested in any hard evidence on the m/f ability to multi-task and switch between tasks. I’m also interested in others’ views about how they get lots of different things done and whether anyone truly does multi-task.

Actions – Organisation and planning

If you are struggling to get everything done, either individually or within your team or project and would like to look more closely at prioritising and managing multiple tasks, workstreams and projects, contact Sue for assistance with project management, time management and coaching.


Leave a Reply

Sign up to our Newsletter