Multitasking (2)

As the demands of technology and social media in the workplace multiply, multitasking is becoming a bigger part of people’s jobs, according to our new research.

In a poll of 2,025 British adults, 45% of respondents said they have to deal with more multitasking in their working lives than they did two or three years ago, compared to just 16% who said they have to deal with less (the rest said it was unchanged).

The problem is that there’s a price to be paid for the growing number of interruptions employees face. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption takes, on average, more than 20 minutes. Furthermore, an experiment conducted at the University of London found we lose the equivalent of 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions. Given that those people interviewed as part of Randstad’s research reported being interrupted six times every day, and that only 33% of employees are using strategies to manage multitasking interruptions, the majority of employees are losing 120 minutes per day – or ten hours every week – to multitasking.

We suggest two solutions to the problem. Highflying employees who want to maintain their productivity can change their environment to move temptation further away – shutting down emails, closing Twitter and Facebook, and silencing phones. And they can cluster similar activities together, keeping the transitional ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout the day, they can try grouping related tasks so there are fewer transitions between them.

Going off-grid for half an hour will boost your productivity – it’s easier to concentrate when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings to check your phone or have a look at your Twitter feed. Alternatively, you can read reports, articles and other documents one after another. Book in meetings back-to-back. And, if possible, try limiting email to two or three set times instead of responding to them the moment they arrive. Of course, that still won’t stop colleagues interrupting you – but it’s a start.

By Mark Bull, CEO of Randstad UK