School Business Affairs July-August 2019

34 JULY/AUGUST 2019 | SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS management briefcase Are you as effective at multitasking as you think? Effective Multitasking By Nan Wodarz, Ed.D. I am willing to bet that you are doing more than just reading this article right now. You are probably also listening to a conversation, thinking about a solution to a personal challenge, and making a list of things you need to do by the end of the day. You might consider this multitasking, and you probably think you are fairly good at this balancing act. However, a number of studies indicate that people aren’t as effec- tive at multitasking as they may think. Actually, doing many different things at once can impair cognitive ability Many people believe that multitasking is a way to increase productivity. If you work on several different tasks at once, you are bound to accomplish more, right? Recent research has demonstrated, however, that switching from one task to the next takes a serious toll on productivity. Multitaskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time. Actually, doing many different things at once can impair cognitive ability. Multitasking Defined What do we mean by multitasking? We may define it as performing two or more tasks simultaneously—reviewing a report while listening to a podcast. We may define it as switching back and forth from one thing to another or performing a number of tasks in rapid succession. Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says we simply cannot focus on more than one thing at a time; however, many of us are adept at shifting our focus from one thing to the next very quickly. In an October 2008 NPR interview, Miller said, “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.” He explains that the brain is forced to switch among multiple cognitive tasks that use the same part of the brain. Task switching—despite how fast it occurs—is unproductive. Furthermore, research indicates that up to 40% of productivity may be lost because of task switching. It actually takes more time to complete the tasks you’re switching between; moreover, you make more errors than when you focus on one task. Email is one of the biggest distractions in your day. A Stanford study confirmed this fact by showing that those who multitask are indeed worse performers and struggle because they can’t filter out irrelevant infor- mation, thus slowing down completion of the cognitive task. Additional studies have shown that it takes four times longer for the brain to recognize new things (further slow- ing down task completion) and that we have a much lower retention rate of content we learn while we are multitasking. Implications of the Research on Multitasking In the brain, multitasking is managed by executive functions. These functions control cognitive processes and determine how, when, and in what order certain tasks are performed. The executive control process has two stages: “goal shifting” (deciding to do one thing instead of another) and “role acti- vation” (changing from the rules for the PIXELBLISS/STOCK.ADOBE.COM