Women and Multitasking

How Doing More than One Thing Can Actually Make You Less Productive

A recent study by Fast Company reported that the average American worker switches task every three minutes and five seconds due to interruptions. However, employees themselves cause roughly half of the observed interruptions... leading us to question, why do people believe we can do it all ... and all at once?

Enter Exhibit A: Our smart phones. On one hand these devices can be a hub of helpful information, but on the other, they are a never-ending sphere of beeps, buzzes, and pop up banners. The average smart phone user is spending 5 hours a day on their device, which certainly means multitasking, is taking place.

Neuroscience researchers tell us that multitasking actually makes us less productive because the brain is constantly switching from task to task and never has time to achieve flow. Women are certainly well known for multitasking behaviors and have been studied to see if they are actually better at multitasking than men. Science has not been able to prove this, although several studies have reported than women outperform men on a number of different types of assignments. Multi-tasking slows down our ability to complete task with advanced thought and can lead to an increase in stress.

How then, do we switch gears from our normal multi-tasking behaviors to handling one task at a time? Practice the OHIO principle... Only Handle It Once. This principle suggests that we should follow through with one assignment before starting the loop around to something else.

  • For example, if you open an email, handle it right then instead of flagging it for follow up and passing it over and over again in your inbox.
  • If you work at a desk, schedule times to check email throughout the day instead of leaving it up on your computer.
  • Schedule phone calls when you are able to focus.
  • Hide your smartphone and schedule 30 minutes to handle an important assignment that needs your undivided attention.
  • Ask people if you can call them back when you can focus on the conversation at hand.

Whatever your strategy, also develop ways to celebrate the success of a task well done so that you can gain momentum while moving on to the next task. Your brain and your task list will thank you in the long run.

Dr. Lauren Ledbetter Griffeth is an Extension Leadership Specialist at the University of Georgia. She is a former 4-Her who loved spending summers picking squash, blueberries and peas with her grandmother in their garden. Lauren specializes in women's agriculture leadership and she and her husband are partners in a local vegetable business. Connect with Lauren on Twitter:  @laurengriffeth.

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