One at a Time? Prioritizing versus Multitasking


Today’s technology and our ways of thinking, feeling, knowing, believing, and behaving are all tied together. Not only do we demand that things happen immediately and that we get what we want at the snap of our fingers (or the click of a mouse), but we also demand that people should be able to finish so many more tasks than anyone once could. This can lead people to multitask: they will take on as many as ten tasks simultaneously, and they claim that doing so saves them time and energy. However, can multitasking really work?

Studies show that multitasking is still not a good answer to the need for productivity in the workplace. Although studies also show that women are better multitaskers than men, neither gender can still finish more than the required load at any one time by taking on many different tasks and expecting to get the job done.

In fact, multitasking slows down work in that it can make people feel burned out easily: because people put too much work on their hands, they lose all the energy that they need when more work comes along. In effect, people can leave the workplace after being battered with work – and only because they took too much upon themselves in the first place.

So how can we solve the problem of multitasking? Prioritizing is the only way to go, it seems: instead of talking on the phone, finishing your report, writing your proposal, looking at your accounts, replying to your emails, chatting with a friend, checking on your children, and talking to your boss all at the same time, you can make a list of priorities.

For instance, if all of these tasks are urgent, you can list your tasks from easiest to hardest to finish, so that you finish up many more tasks faster (and get a good sense of accomplishment at the same time). On the other hand, if the tasks are of varying urgency, you can go with the most urgent tasks first, and then move on to more tasks the next time around.

Yet another mode of prioritizing involves going for personal things first, work things next, and everything else afterward. For instance, in the example above, you have to put your children and family first, your work next, and then maybe your friends and fun afterward.

Although it seems to be a highly stringent and out-dated way of doing things, think again: your family is the one that you go home to at the end of the day, and you are working to keep your family happy and afloat; your work should not get in the way of the purpose that it serves; and your friends, unless they are also at work and are important to your productivity and family, can wait for the moment. Of course, these priorities may apply to only some people, so you may need to sort out your priorities on your own.

The advantages of prioritizing include getting more work done and putting the best into each piece of work, instead of having so many tasks on your plate that you end up finishing tasks for the sake of simply finishing them. People who multitask often end up falling into the trap of doing work for work’s sake: they do not want to be saddled with more deadlines, and they often make the wrong assumption that the more work they finish, the better they will appear to their bosses.

On the contrary, if you finish a lot of haphazard work, you will appear more like a disgruntled factory worker than a person suited to meet the demands of the corporate arena.

Of course, multitasking has its own advantages if you know how to multitask. If you are able to put the best into each job even when doing many tasks at the same time, then you can certainly look good at work – but this can also raise expectations of you, and if you do not meet them the next time around, you might not seem so nice and productive when your boss sees your progress report.

Moreover, you will need to watch your health: even if some people love the excitement and challenge of stress, multitasking is no excuse to not see the doctor. If you have a hundred jobs on your plate, add one more: watch your diet, and keep yourself healthy.

These are only a few tips and aspects of prioritizing and multitasking. You need to know what works best for you, and you need to use this to best suit your needs and abilities.