BOSTON (CBS) – You’ve got five free minutes, but 10 things that need to get done immediately. So, what do you do? Most people in that situation try to perfect the art of multi-tasking.
We’re all doing it more than ever, but research indicates we might not really be getting ahead.
A mother with a toddler said that she definitely feels the need to multi-task. A businessman said it’s critical in today’s environment.
Boston College professor Joe Tecce has been studying the effect of multi-tasking on the brain for more than 30 years.
“The brain gets disrupted,” Tecce said. “The heart rate is increased. Muscle tensions are increased. Blinking gets faster, a sure sign of stress.”
The problem is we are inundated with information and new technology like never before. With television, texts, and e-mails, we now consume three times the media we did in 1960.
It’s a similar situation at work. One study found the average worker shifts among 37 computer programs every hour.
One young woman said she is not concerned about losing focus under this barrage of information. She believes she can do it all.
But research indicates that might be tough because only about three percent of the population can really multi-task effectively. The rest end up getting distracted and can’t concentrate when they really need to.
“The habit of multi-tasking keeps you on the alert for signals that you don’t need, always looking around,” Tecce said.
In today’s work force, many are looking over their shoulder to make sure they’ve still got a job. Fewer workers means those left behind are given more to do.
Even though studies indicate just about no one can successfully multi-task, most companies still force it upon their employees.
“People will typically continue to give someone more responsibility in their role until they are asked not to, and employees right now are not in a position to ask them not to,” Elaine Varelas, a human resource consultant at Keystone Partners, said.
That can leave nervous and overburdened workers in a bind.
“You have to have to have a very positive outlook,” Varelas said. “That is to say ‘I love my job, I love what I am doing here, but I need some help prioritizing. I need some help setting some with boundaries and guidelines.’”
One way you can help yourself at work is to turn off your e-mail notification, according to Varelas.
It can be such a big distraction that you might be better off just checking it a couple of times a day.