In my blog, Multi-tasking - a dilemma for L&D?, I commented that multi-tasking is changing the way we learn.
This prompted quite a reaction and an interesting divergence of opinion. Some very clearly of the view that multi-tasking boosts their speediness, others sympathetic to my point that when multi-tasking you simply can't pay complete attention.
Of particular interest were the comments from the facilitators on our highly regarded Resilience programme - does multi-tasking make you more or less resilient?
The first issue is related to quality. In my previous blog, I commented about the errors my brother committed whilst multi-tasking. Seeing or even sensing those errors after the event can definitely cause stress and weaken resilience.
Secondly, juggling tasks can be very stressful. We all know how frustrating it can be desperately trying to remember where you were before you changed tasks.
Thirdly, no-one can successfully do more than one remotely complex thing at a time. The brain is simply not equipped to do serious multi-tasking, especially if the different activities use the same part of the brain – just try reading whilst talking, one or probably both tasks will fail. To succeed you need to be superhuman, and feeling that you need to be so, or that you have failed, is very demanding.
Whenever demands exceed abilities, resilience is bound to be weakened.
Multi-tasking is especially stressful when the tasks are significant and the brain reacts by pumping out adrenaline and other stress hormones that put you "on edge”. And a continued state of being “on edge” can surely strain the body, reduce resilience and eventually threaten health.
There have been many studies on the physical effects of stress. Among them are headaches, stomach trouble, sleep problems, back pain, heart disease, and depression.
So not only is multitasking counterproductive in terms of quality and speed, it is clearly risky in the short term and potentially even the long term, but generational changes have naturally encouraged younger generations to push the boundaries and focus on more than one thing at a time. Will Generation Y ever be able to do just one thing at a time (perhaps that’s a question for another time)?
But, we also have to recognise the demands of the modern work environment. On our Resilience courses, delegates learn key resilience tactics – organising, prioritising, exercise, relaxation, diet – but not all at the same time!
Have any questions about how to improve the resilience of your people? Contact us today to see how we can help.
Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning
In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.