How to Be Better at Multitasking

Last updated: August 7, 2020

Back in 2013, British psychologists claimed that women are better than men at multitasking in an article published in the BMC Psychology journal. The Harvard Business Review wrote in response that these assumptions are not backed by evidence and that most studies still show that gender does not play a role in our ability to multitask.  

The truth about this gender stereo-type is that both men and women are equally bad at multitasking. Only 2% of the population can actually excel at more than one task at the same time, according to the University of Utah’s psychology professor David Strayer. With this battle of the sexes out of the way, you might be wondering why it’s so difficult for anyone to multitask? Or maybe, what it is you could be doing to become a better multitasker? 

Even though all the research out there on multitasking has shown us that people, in general, are just bad it, that doesn’t mean it’s not something you could be better at. I mean, man was never meant to fly but we found a way around that little dilemma. And, where there is a will there is a way.

Multitasking allows you to handle multiple things at once in order to achieve more results in less time. When you take on only one task at a time you have to slow down, consume more time to complete the individual task, and gain smaller results from putting all of your focus into one thing.  We agree that putting your focus on one thing actually helps you do that thing really well, however, that’s not always an option.

A profession that provides us with an excellent example of someone who multitasks for a living is a receptionist. Often, a receptionist handles calls, communicates over other platforms like chat or email, records data, retrieves and provides information, and displays empathy. And, this is the basics for someone who works in this position. 

Multitasking Helps Your Business Improve Your Bottom Line 

Multitasking is required in almost every business and industry. So, even though you weren’t built to be good at multitasking, you should definitely take the time to get better at it. Without some improvement, it’ll most likely be harder for you to find your place in the professional world.

Without being able to multitask to even the smallest degree you run the risk of wasteful expenditure in your time and resources. Here are some business benefits: 

  • You can easily switch focus from one task to another and handle multiple things at once, thereby saving time. 
  • You can learn to deal with distractions and not be bothered by interruptions  
  • Different projects and processes can all progress concurrently, instead of queuing up things.  
  • You will learn to find order within a chaotic environment, and as real-life situations are always chaotic, multitasking helps you to handle organizational chaos better 
  • You can use outsourcing and automation to aid you in multitasking to scale quickly and grow as a business 
  • Multitasking helps you keep all your clients’ projects on progress. When they seek updates, you will have an answer to provide. 
  • You can quickly improve your bottom-line figures by multitasking as projects get completed faster. 

Why Multitasking is So Hard for Humans

Multitasking is crucial to enhance customer satisfaction and improve workplace productivity. Unfortunately, only 2% of the population can multitask effectively. Our brain is hard-wired to focus on a single task and this is true for everyone. If you’re wondering why humans can’t multitask effectively, there is ample psychological explanation to explain why.  

Our brain must process several stimuli and sort them according to importance. Once perceived and processed, the brain attends to the stimuli that are most important in descending order. Multitasking runs against the way the brain works because it needs to place tasks in a hierarchy but doing two or more things at the same time will require the brain to perceive all those tasks as equally important. In addition, the brain’s cognitive effort needs to be equally distributed to all tasks, which causes depletion of energy quickly, causing us to feel exhausted or fatigued quickly. In a Telegraph article, this phenomenon is described succinctly, and author Kate Devin explains that mind quickly feels overloaded when there are too many things to do (cognitive exhaustion). 

How You Can Be Better at Multitasking 

While it is difficult to multitask and we’re all equally at a loss when it comes to switching between tasks, we all can get better at it with a little effort. Here are some quick tips to help you juggle between tasks:

Schedule how you choose to multitask 

Observe yourself when you’re feeling fatigued and try to pick up a different task instead of continuing with the same one. Harvard Business Review wrote that it’s important to rotate between projects consistently instead of trying to do both at once. Another method is to schedule when you will multitask and when you will focus on a single task.  

Reduce your screen-time and keep that phone away 

Digital addiction can cause our brains to be in a state of hyperactivity which causes us to become less productive. Smartphone addiction is also linked with reduced attention span and inability to focus on a given task. Take time off your smartphones and digital devices and use them only when you really need to instead of filling to void with all the games and apps you have on your device. This will naturally allow your brain to focus on tasks more efficiently than when you’re cognitively exhausted.  

Get out of your desk and get some exercise 

Research shows that exercise can dramatically improve both attention span and the ability to focus on complex tasks. Most importantly, exercising releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical, which can help you feel relaxed and calm. De-stressing yourself is important to be able to focus on tasks better and juggle with multiple projects.  

Multitasking is a skill that can be perfected over time 

Multitasking is often described as a skill that is learned, more than an inherent capability. This means, the more you multitask, the better you get at multitasking. You will be able to switch between tasks more efficiently if practice switching more often. This idea is supported by a study conducted by the University of Queensland.   

Get enough rest and pamper yourself 

Nothing is more important than getting enough rest and giving your tired brain time to rejuvenate so that it’s ready to focus and switch between tasks quickly and efficiently. Use your vacation time, take breaks, and eat well in order to get adequate nutrition and essential micro-nutrients. 

Multitasking is Important for Business 

Certainly, all of us find it difficult to multitask but there are clear business benefits in doing so. Unfortunately, the human brain is not equipped to multitask efficiently, and it is important to understand our own limitations. Nevertheless, there are several ways to improve our multitasking abilities. To begin with, you can choose to schedule when you will switch tasks and consider rotating between tasks in order to break the monotony.  

Don’t forget to put your phone down and give your brain ample time to feel refreshed. Get some exercise. A brisk walk goes a long way. Taking breaks often also helps you to reduce stress levels and elevates your performance. Also, multitasking is a skill that can be practiced and improved over time. Encourage your employees to multitask and reward those who perform well so that excellent multitasking abilities are reinforced.  

Finally, consider automating and outsourcing certain processes so that your employees don’t feel overwhelmed. For instance, our live receptionist service can help you and your employees focus on their tasks instead of having to juggle phone calls as well. 

Bailey Whitaker

Bailey Whitaker

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