All about Multitasking!!

February, 2021

Dear Friends

I was a panelist at a Business Forum’s annual event recently. 3 women panelists (a dancer-cum-art school founder, a doctor-cum-speciality care centre founder and myself) shared our thoughts on “Women as changemakers” – the need to encourage a girl child to dream big, to help her convert them into goals, to support and empower her to turn it into a profession, the struggles of work-life balance as a woman, perseverance and fighting against societal stereotypes, change in individual and institutional mindsets required (to me the family, employing organisation and society all three are institutions), how a woman must negotiate what she wants, how she must create a support system early in her life much before the need arises to have a career, the choices she makes, the need to believe in herself and stay committed, the contrast between feminism (a movement that is identified with strong emotional expression) and women empowerment (a bigger and more encompassing, purposeful action). All of us agreed that a woman is herself an embodiment of change all through her life – puberty, marriage, child-birth, menopause – each stage triggering different kinds of changes physically, physiologically, biologically, emotionally and intellectually. Every woman has a different story to share – some manage it well, others don’t. While metamorphosizing ourselves, if we are able to bring some positive changes in the surroundings around us, it will be a life well lived.

Surprisingly none of us brought out the most commonly attributed competency of a woman – multi-tasking. While this is heralded as a strength of our tribe, research shows that multi-tasking is not actually productive. While daily chores do need parallel tasking in the interest of time, the same is not true where cognitive abilities are involved. It is said there is a 40% reduction in productivity due to multitasking though it appears that we are able to handle many things at the same time. We are doing this all the time – at workplace, juggling between a phone call, messaging, email, now virtual meetings (which provides ample room for distractions) in the illusion that we are able to attend to multiple assignments. This is all the more so for a person in a consulting organisation that caters to many customers. I find this happening to my colleagues and me as well, as we are in the constant race to handle client requirements. I do notice how fatigued they are at the end of the day and still find many things incomplete. What is the way out ? Prioritising, creating a to-do-list, setting aside time for personal messages, not responding to emails constantly, setting client expectations right that they cannot expect instantaneous response always (sometimes yes but not always), collating issues and preferring a single call over repeated calls and emails which distract one’s attention, delegate and most importantly learn to say NO. Toughest thing for many of us ! Multitasking involves both goal shifting and role activation each time the brain shifts from one to another. This adds a small time delay which hurts your overall productivity. Since the brain is supposed to be trained to do one thing at a time, it is said that the cognitive abilities of the brain is impaired during multitasking. It also leads to stress which is the number one cause for most diseases, both physical and mental. Most often those multitasking do not realise they are doing it and find it difficult not to stay distracted. Recommendation is – limit the number of tasks to just two at any given time AND follow the ‘20 minute rule’ i.e. be at a task at least for 20 minutes before jumping to another one. This is likely to reduce the negative effect of multitasking in case avoiding is not an option. In this fast paced world, therefore mindfulness, meditation, yoga, silence etc. take significance to help us have single minded devotion at a task. I believe reducing multitasking (complete elimination may not be possible) can lead to sustainable and quality living which is the current goal of most people !

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