Beware the Multitasking Myth

Is multitasking bad for your customer service?  Decidedly, yes!  It’s unusual to get “experts” to agree on much, but one thing that has a strikingly high percentage of consensus is the fact that multi-tasking is ineffective, distracting, and seems to slowly disable our capacity to focus.  It’s not so much that you can’t do two things at once, like say, chew gum and walk – but researchers insist that performing more than one task that competes with similar parts of the brain (talking, writing, texting, reading, etc.) is not possible. What we tell ourselves is that we are masters of efficiency, able to conquer several tasks in a single bound.  In reality, what we are doing is switching between tasks extremely rapidly – and often, not terribly efficiently.  The more we push ourselves and inadvertently teach ourselves to do this, the harder it is to garner our undivided attention – we basically unlearn the ability to effectively concentrate.  It’s also super stressful!

Think about that dreadful feeling when you’re composing an important email and another client calls needing your full attention on a spreadsheet.  As you attempt to handle both tasks, your text alert sounds and you look down automatically (because you consider yourself to be an award-winning multitasker!) to read that your child is sick and needs to go home from school.  In the same moment, your Outlook reminder pops up letting you know that you have a meeting in 15 minutes down the hall – and as if that wasn’t enough, there is a person waiting to talk to you, mouthing and gesturing in you in your doorway.  Realistically, you will forget that you are handling at least one thing in this situation, and you will be less effective with all of them.  Sound a little close to home?  Scary!  Your brain can be a “task manager” for you and will prioritize in the order of importance you feel – but that’s it.

We don’t always have control over what comes in and when; in fact, I’m not sure I ever do!  My workdays are unpredictable rollercoasters and I bet your days are too!  However, the simple awareness of the fact that I literally can’t do everything at once helps curb my enthusiasm for making choices that hurt my productivity and the services that I provide.  I let some of my calls go to voicemail when I’m busy because giving my full attention later is better for my business.  I also close my door when I need to concentrate and keep the alerts among my office devices chirping at a minimum.

We have learned to consider multitasking to be a virtue when it is in fact a costly and detrimental myth.  We have to concede that it’s generally better to do one thing at a time really well than to do several things really poorly.  Hopefully these thoughts provoke some assessments to be sure that you aren’t unknowingly damaging both the quality in your services and the productivity of your workforce by aiming at perceived efficiency.

Would anyone like to challenge this assertion?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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