Although popular media reports continue to battle over whether multitasking is a good thing or a bad one, the truth is that most managers need to be able to multitask. Managers juggle a wide range of complex tasks every day, from completing paperwork and balancing accounts to settling customer complaints and defusing conflicts among workers.
How can you help your managers juggle more effectively? Consider the following tips for improving multitasking skills and effectiveness:
- Recognize that multitasking ability declines with age. Most people do lose the ability to multitask effectively as they age, meaning that older managers will need to adapt their work practices as the years go by in order to maintain the same level of effectiveness. Also, recognize that the definition of “older” workers, when it comes to multitasking, is younger than we think – some studies have found that multitasking ability declines precipitously between the relatively young ages of 20 and 30 years.
- Practice makes improvement. Regardless of age, practice does tend to improve multitasking skills in all people. Many online tools and games focus on sharpening a person’s multitasking abilities, as does regular use of the skill.
- Multitask in multiple brain areas. Studies show that multitasking is more effective when it occupies different parts of the brain – for instance, reading an e-mail while sorting objects. Multitasking that requires the same part of the brain to do two or more tasks at once simply drains power from the single part of the brain that is engaged, decreasing the chances that either task will be done well.
- Shut down distractions. The vast increase in technological distractions, particularly on the Internet, makes it tempting to “multitask” with one entertaining activity, such as watching YouTube videos, alongside one less-exciting one, like writing a report. Help managers identify when multitasking is functional and when it is an excuse for distraction, and give them the tools to avoid distractions when needed – such as the ability to disable the Internet while they write a report.
- Consider the power of timers. When intense, uninterrupted focus is needed, encourage managers to work in short bursts of time, followed by short breaks, to maximize productivity. For instance, the Pomodoro method uses a timer to encourage concentration for twenty minutes, followed by a five-minute break.