The Art of Multitasking

Jazmin Web

Mount Mary student, Jazmin Rodriguez

Between two children, a full-time job and school, multitasking is essential for Mount Mary student, Jazmin Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, a senior majoring in business and behavioral science for health care, has worked in the health care field for 20 years, where she had to learn to multitask effectively.

As an administrative assistant, Rodriguez is accustomed to switching gears and working on numerous things at once.

“I’m so used to fast-paced multitasking that I think I would be too bored and wouldn’t find it interesting,” she said. “I feed off of that adrenaline rush of ‘Oh my gosh, I have to get this done.”

According to Rodriguez, multitasking is having the ability to handle large volumes of work and duties.

“At least in health care, and I’m sure it’s probably the same way in other fields, usually one person is doing a three-person job,” Rodriguez said. “That’s happened to me a lot.”

For Rodriguez, multitasking got easier with time.

“It’s a learned experience,” Rodriguez said. “It took me a long time to function this way. It took me years of multitasking, and the first couple of years were the most difficult, until, finally, you get your groove.”

The Art of Multitasking 

Tamara Multitasking WebTamara Sanchez, a junior majoring in fashion design, is a supervisor at a finance office for 17 years. From a managerial standpoint, Sanchez expects her staff to accomplish more than one task at a time.

“You have some people who will do something, then sit there and stare around and wait for a few minutes to pass and they’ll do something else,” Sanchez said. “We don’t have time for that where I work because it’s moving so fast.”

She landed the position by multitasking. During the application process, Sanchez was filling out paperwork when the owner started conversing with her. Without missing a beat, she continued writing while maintaining that conversation. She was hired immediately.

To prevent error, Sanchez said she always performs her tasks with care and triple-checks her work.

Planning ahead and strategizing are also crucial. She executes the five Ps of fashion design: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Product.

“With sewing, it’s measure twice, cut once always,” Sanchez said.

Dividing Your Attention

Dr. Laurel End, professor and chair of the psychology department, has studied the effectiveness of multitasking involving the brain’s capacity.

According to End, we can only devote our attention to a limited number of things and do them well. Depending on what the job is, focusing on more than one thing can have a negative impact on performance.

“When we are multitasking, we’re not monitoring those tasks simultaneously,” End said. “We’re switching our attention back and forth between them rapidly. So, we do miss things, and we think we don’t because we fill in the missing gaps.”

Did You Know infographic

Did You Know infographic

End said when tasks are simpler or well-practiced, like chewing gum and walking, we have the ability to perform them simultaneously because they don’t require all of our attention or processing capacity.

 

To End, part of multitasking is a societal pressure to do more in less time. She noticed this phenomenon in her classroom. When cellphones or laptops were used during lecture in class, she noticed the students’s performance decreased.

Her advice is to make better use of time by focusing on the task at hand.

“With only 2.5 percent of people being able to perform these complex tasks simultaneously and still doing them well, I would hope the other 97.5 percent of us would say, I’m not one of those ‘supertaskers,’ and I really just need to focus on one thing at a time,” End said.

 

Relish the Moment

In the calm energy of her office, Sister Joanne Poehlman, associate professor of anthropology, uses index cards to help her estimate how much time she will have to spend on each daily task. She believes students often underestimate how much time they actually have.

“We have only so many minutes a day, and we can’t expand those by multitasking,” Poehlman said. “We have this minute. What kind of minute do I want it to be? Maybe we even have an hour or two. What kind of hour do I want it to be?”

Poehlman worries that today’s students – who balance school, work, home and social lives – will be unable to live their lives to their full potential.

“Unless we do something to help us all claim the time that is ours, our culture will just grind us into the ground,” Poehlman said. “Because it isn’t culture – we are the ones to create culture.”

Words of Wisdom from Sister Poehlman

  • Stop in between tasks to BREATHE
  • Make the task that you’re doing quality (if it requires quality)
  • Know what you’re good at and what you can handle
  • Estimate how much time something will take
  • Allow time to complete a task in sections – it gives you control

Try out this mindfulness training based on counting breaths and developed by UW-Madison multitasking researchers. The exercise is designed to improve focus and awareness.


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