Multitasking As An Office Manager: Does It Work?

As an office manager, being able to juggle multiple things at the same time without letting anything fall through the cracks is an essential skill. The office environment is fast-paced and requires particularly thorough attention to detail, excellent critical thinking skills, and time-management skills.

Further, we were led to believe that there’s nothing wrong with doing two or more things at the same time. With the amount of work and pressing deadlines, there’s no time to waste. Thus, multitasking is a MUST. After all, when we switch between two or more tasks, more work gets done faster.

However, what if everything is not what it seems? What if we only thought that doing several things at once is a perfect solution for maximum productivity, but in reality, it’s time to say goodbye to this misconception?

To that end, we’ll discuss what multitasking does to our brains and its real impact on workplace productivity. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to see why the myth of multitasking should be altogether abandoned.

But don’t feel bad yet – multitasking is probably not what you thought it was in the first place.

What Multitasking Really Is

When you hear the term multitasking, you’re probably thinking of this scenario: You’re sitting at your computer and typing out a document with one hand while scheduling appointments on a piece of paper with the other and simultaneously speaking with a client over the shoulder-held phone. Is this the picture you have in mind when you think of multitasking?

If so, you might want to reconsider this traditional understanding of the concept. If multitasking isn’t doing several things at the same time effectively, then what is it?

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes three types of multitasking:

  1. Performing two tasks simultaneously. This includes talking on the phone while driving or answering email during a webinar.
  2. Switching from one task to another without completing the first task. We’ve all been right in the middle of focused work when an urgent task demands our attention; this is one of the most frustrating kinds of multitasking, and often the hardest to avoid.
  3. Performing two or more tasks in rapid succession. It almost doesn’t seem like multitasking at all, but our minds need time to change gears in order to work efficiently.

So… What actually happens when we try to multitask is task switching. Since we can’t actually do two things at once, we have to frequently move from one task to another. Each of these shifts entails twofold time loss:

  • Goal shifting – when we decide we’re done with one task and ready to move on to the next.
  • Rule activation – when we turn off the rule set for task one and turn on rules for task two. 

Imagine what happens when you go through this process ten times in half an hour. To make matters worse, this shifting time extends as the complexity of tasks increases.

Having this picture in mind, it doesn’t surprise that research has found that multitasking inhibits efficiency and shortens attention span. So, let’s debunk some common myths about multitasking…

Debunking The Myths Of Multitasking

Did you know that only 2% of people can multitask successfully? For the rest of the population (98% of people,) switching between two or more tasks does more harm than good.

This can mean that sometimes, it can destroy your productivity. Countless studies have been conducted to determine multitasking’s impact on the brain and productivity. A 2009 Stanford University study from Clifford Nass found that heavy multitaskers were less mentally organized, struggled at switching from one task to another, and had a hard time differentiating relevant from irrelevant details.  

Since then, more research has emerged supporting the idea that multitasking may not be the best way to get as many tasks as possible done throughout the day. It comes down to our ability to focus – we are most effective when we focus our attention on one thing at a time. 

In fact, a study by Bryan College found that balancing more than one task at a time actually hinders employee performance, with an ultimate global cost of $450 million per year.

Furthermore, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), rapid shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time. That’s crazy! The very same skill that many of us relish and point to as the key to our success may be costing us 16 hours every week. It seems pretty clear that multitasking and productivity don’t mix.

In a nutshell, multitasking may not even be the right word to describe the behavior. It’s a misnomer. Our brains really aren’t wired to more than one task at a time, instead, we switch tasks. Unfortunately, task switching is expensive. Not only does multitasking decrease productivity but multitaskers make more errors and take more time to complete tasks.

The Risks Of Multitasking

1. Multitasking Can Lead To Increased Distractibility

In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, researchers determined that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to distractions from irrelevant stimuli, resulting in greater problems focusing on important tasks. 

Therefore, when you’re distracted, you tend to quickly lose focus on important tasks, often resulting in errors and mistakes.

2. Multitasking Can Affect Your Brain’s Efficiency

Multitasking can also impair memory. A 2009 study conducted by Stafford University showed that constant distractions also impact multitaskers’ ability to recall crucial steps involved in a complicated project. 

Information overload can result in an impairment of trivial and important information differentiation. Employees experiencing this in the office can miss crucial steps in a project or product line, resulting in a lower quality product or service.

3. Multitasking Can Decrease Your Creativity 

As an office manager, you desire to be creative. After all, being creative means being able to solve problems better, coming up with innovative ideas, and being more success-driven, no matter how many failures you face.

Therefore, creativity is important in your role. Unfortunately, even if you try your best to be creative, you won’t be able to reach your full potential when you force yourself into multitasking.

Creativity requires a stress-free environment and no time pressure. When you’re juggling between two or more tasks, you focus on finishing them as quickly as possible. Here, the emphasis is put on speed, not creativity.

4. Multitasking Can Lead To More Mistakes

This is a logical consequence of the lack of focus characteristic of multitasking. When doing several things at once, your mind is divided between them so it’s only natural that your mistakes will multiply. 

And according to the Stanford research, multitaskers are terrible at filtering out irrelevant information. That means that there is sure to be some mental cross-firing and overlap between tasks.

Can you really afford to make those mistakes as an office manager? Probably not. That’s why each task should receive your full attention, separately.

5. Multitasking Can Make You Feel Stressed Out

Further studies show a negative physical effect in the body, in addition to a negative cognitive effect. Multitaskers will experience a release of stress hormones and adrenaline in their bodies. 

The result can often become a vicious cycle of constant multitasking, requiring more time to complete a long list of tasks, experiencing high stress, and multitasking even more to compensate. The constant high-stress level can cause you to become sick, miss days of work, and decrease your overall productivity as an office manager.

6. Multitasking Can Cause Anxiety

A major downside of multitasking is the feeling of anxiety which plagues people who consistently divide their attention. This study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine shows that the symptoms of interrupted work range from psychological to physical.

They performed a test that measured the heart rates of employees with and without access to office email. Those who could access their emails remained wired up – they exhibited higher heart rates than those who didn’t have access. On the other hand, the second group was observed to perform their jobs relatively stress-free.

7. Multitasking Can Make You Less Productive and Less Efficient

As you already know, our brains are not designed for multitasking. We cannot do more than one task at a time. From a brain perspective, the more you are trying to do, the less brain bandwidth you have to focus on the latest in a series of tasks. Thus, you cannot possibly work or perform at your best.

Furthermore, People believe that by doing many things at one time, they save their time and work very fast but it is inverted. Because of multitasking, there is no focus in any of our work, and it takes too much time in the finished work. You lose the ability to listen. You become forgetful. Like a frantic juggler, you drop balls. Because of that, you become less productive and less efficient!

How To Avoid Multitasking As An Office Manager?

Now that you know the risks of multitasking at work, what now?

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Plan Your Day Ahead

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

So, make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

When you have a plan for the day, your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work. Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing

2. Prioritize Your Tasks

You’re smart! You know what needs to be done and how long it takes, but, for some reason, so many of us have a really hard time prioritizing tasks. 

To solve this, stick to the plan you have made that you need to complete and list them in the priority that they need to be done. This way, each of your tasks will get your full focus, and you’ll make sure that the most crucial ones are completed. If you don’t get through everything on your list, don’t feel bad! Just move those items to the next day.

In addition, you should schedule work that is challenging and requires a lot of focus for the time of day when your attention and drive are at their peak. For example, if you are a morning person, tackle these projects first thing after you get to work. If you attempt to complete these tasks when you are physically or mentally fatigued, your mind will be more likely to wander.

3. Do One Thing At A Time

Contrary to the multitasker’s creed, you’ll actually get more tasks done by doing them individually. It can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Moreover, whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. You then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get yourself out of the commitment you made. For example, by saying “can I let you know later?” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

4. Finish Before You Start

The first step in breaking a habit is being aware of it. If you find yourself constantly multitasking, choose a day to log everything you do so that you can identify patterns that lead to your distractions and be mindful of them in the future.

After realizing this habit, learn to break it! Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become more productive.

There is great productivity momentum in finishing things to done before taking on the next task. While it may be tempting to encourage marathon work sessions, remember to always take a break after each task. 

5. Delegate Tasks Accordingly

Doing everything on your own is multitasking in disguise. As you know, it’s almost impossible to get things done alone. So to avoid multitasking, delegate your work accordingly.

Keep an eye on your employees’ workloads and delegate according to both workload and specialization. Being an office manager, you should lay out specific processes for your team members to follow. This is to spread the work properly among workers and bring structure, efficiency, and measurable results to their workflow.

6. Eliminate Interruptions

This does not just mean turning off your computer or setting your browser to block social media while working. However, notifications and instant messaging programs, even those that are tied to your work, can harm your productivity.

Little interruptions can draw your attention away, derailing your workflow, which likely will take some time to restart. Even if it only takes a few seconds out of your day, those seconds add up quickly and diminish the quality of your work. 

So it’s better to stick to a commonly agreed work schedule. Turn off notifications and instant messaging programs. Instead, set a specific time when you will be checking and responding to emails and other messages.

We get it –You cannot miss a beat, but sometimes, all of these notifications creep up on you and before you know it, you’ve spent hours going down a rabbit hole of unnecessary tasks and you haven’t completed one thing on your to-do list.

7. Utilize Productivity Tools

Keeping on top of all your roles is clearly a massive task that takes a lot of work and time.  Thankfully, every task comes with a tool that will help carry the load and make it easier to manage.

For example, a time tracking tool allows you to measure the number of minutes or hours that employees spend on particular tasks. This way, you can deter them from procrastinating as well as ensure that no productive time is wasted on unofficial tasks. Or, to avoid overseeing your meetings, deadlines, resources, progress, and more, a calendar app or tool is your best friend. 

While it may be tough to juggle a little bit of everything, using effective productivity tools can save you a lot of time and trouble– making it easier to fulfill your responsibilities and get the office organized. 

To help you pinpoint the essential tools for your workflow, we have listed 24 of our favorite software tools that will skyrocket your productivity! Check it out: 24 Productivity Tools For Office Managers

The Bottomline

Whether we like it or we don’t, multitasking has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Although we desperately try to focus on one thing only, shifting from one task to another is simply bound to happen, especially if you are leading a team or department.

As much we would like to believe that multitasking helps us become proficient at our job, it actually does quite the opposite. It hinders our concentration, makes our productivity drop and prevents us from delivering the best work possible. In reality, we only shift from one thing to another, interrupting our thoughts and wasting our energy in the process.

So remember that productivity will skyrocket if you focus your attention on one task at a time. You will be able to devote yourself to the work. By creating blocks of time for different tasks, you have a better chance of staying productive and on schedule towards completion. 

Lastly, fast hands and leadership skills come in really handy when you’re managing an office. The quicker you are able to get things done, the more you’ll be able to help direct others and the company overall stay on top of tasks. Remember that an effective office manager is responsible for leading office team members and make sure that the work is getting done in a timely manner. 

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