A good friend of our family is an EMT (Emergency Medical Tech). Somehow, we got on the topic of multitasking. As she put it, if she loses focus and starts multitasking on things not directly related to a patient, someone could die.
That got me thinking, do I multitask? Hell yeah I do!! Every project manager I’ve ever known multitasks. And you know what? We all think we’re good at it!
But let’s be honest, no matter how good we think we are at multitasking, we’re probably not. Though it (hopefully) won’t result in someone’s death, there are impacts to ourselves, the team, and the project we’re leading. Below are some of those impacts. What others might you add?
Loss of Focus. Ever been on a call, mindlessly listening to the team talk while checking and responding to email, then hearing “What do you think [insert your name here]?” Damnit! Splitting your time and attention too much causes you to lose focus on tasks that are important and prevents them from getting done. When having important conversations, you can miss key messages or just say “YEP!” and commit to something you’re not able to do. Chunk out time to focus on one task at a time.
Oh Shit I Forgot What I Was Doing. If you’re trying to do two things at once and then a third and fourth item jumps into the mix, chances are something is going to be forgotten. Maybe you forgot where you left off on item #1. Or, you forgot about #2 all together. Some people are good at keeping track of where they left off. I personally am not. I know others who are even worse than me. If you multitask, you run the risk of forgetting something.
Discombobulation and Anger. One of the side effects of multitasking is overstimulation. Your brain is trying to take in a lot of information. Once it can’t process it all, you become confused, then upset. At that point, we’re prone to lashing out at team members or any other unfortunate soul who gets in our way (if you work from home, it could even be a loved one). When you start to feel that confusion and anger coming on, step back, take a breath, and focus on the most important task to get done.
Increased Stress Levels. Let’s be honest, even without multitasking our lives are stressful. By multitasking, we’re only making a stressful situation worse. Building on discombobulation and anger, if we continually overload our brains with too many inputs at once, our stress levels go way up and risk burning out! Don’t make your life more stressful that it needs to be.
Costs Your Project. If you’re multitasking, you’re probably not focusing on the most critical thing your project needs. Your project team may see you multitasking and do the same thing, thus not getting key tasks done. When project issues inevitably come up, if you and other team members are multitasking, you may not be as creative in coming up with a solution.
Let’s be honest, I can tell you not to multitask. You can read about why not to multitask. Tomorrow by 9AM, you will have probably multitasked a dozen times. We won’t stop doing it, but be aware of when you feasibly can, and when you should focus 100% of our attention on something important. Project managers multitask all the team. It’s in our DNA. But don’t allow it to impact yourself, your team, or your project.