Monday, January 19, 2015

Multitasking in an Academic Environment

Multitasking entails the ability to complete two types of tasks at once in an effort to complete both by certain time frames. Conventional multitasking at the same time is different than multitasking larger projects where each has its own schedule and time. Professors that engage in multiple large projects at once, teaching students, and completing administrative duties often become skilled at multitasking offering an important lesson for industry managers.

The brain only has so much ability to process information at the same time. Eventually the quality of the work completed slows down and mistakes are made. However, this only applies to tasks that are being conducted at the same time and not necessarily projects that have smaller tasks that can be completed individually.

The same overload occurs among professors who are attempting to complete academic projects but are distracted by phones, music, interruptions etc.. A study of over a thousand professors found that when they attempted to do too many tasks with too much environmental stimuli the quality of work declined (Baran, 2013).

Larger projects are a little different as they project might be completed over the period of months or even a year. Life cannot go on hold when these large projects are in process and professors will need to find ways of handling other daily work responsibilities. Whether they are teaching and researching or writing a book and developing a course they will need to find a way to manage both simultaneously.

Large projects are typically broken down into smaller steps. Each day you may have some piece to complete to reach the larger goal. Understanding the steps in the larger process will make multitasking easier as each step can be completed in a single sitting of an an hour or more. Narrowing focus on this task will improve the quality and time taken for accomplishment.

Let us take the task of writing a journal article. Such work occurs over many days, if not months, and contains hundreds of small tasks that include research, analysis, writing, proof reading, and submission. Spending a few hours everyday reading the literature and taking notes is especially helpful in working toward the final product.

Each day will bring a new task that leads to the fulfillment of a larger goal. While engaged in these minitasks it is important to reduce other distractions that are present. This may include turning off your radio, closing your office door, or turning off your cell phone. While completing this minitask there should be no other concerns for this brief period.

Multitasking can include completing multiple larger projects at one time but focusing on specific tasks in isolation to ensure that your quality is strong and projects move forward at a brisk pace. By breaking down large projects into individual tasks and reducing distractions on these individual tasks the quality of workmanship can rise. Learning to multitask will save you time and frustration throughout your career.

Bahran, B. (2013). The effect of multitasking to faculty members' academic works. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 13 (4).

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