Multi-tasking is just one of those parts of modern working life that’s impossible to get away from, right? I mean we have a menagerie of interruptions, whether it’s the telephone chatter from the next cubicle or the ping of a new email entering our inbox. Heck, with social data, the interruptions are only ever increasing.
Multi-tasking therefore seems a pretty fundamental skill to master to survive in the modern workplace. It’s not a skill that comes easily however, and some people are undoubtedly better at it than others.
A new study suggests there is a way to gauge someones ability to multi-task successfully, and it comes from assessing their abilities and preferences in parallel.
The researchers rounded up participants from a range of occupations that were deemed to require a large amount of multi-tasking. The participants were then asked to complete a computer based multi-tasking assignment that involved solving two types of task alongside each other. Each participant was then asked their preference for multi-tasking.
The study found that when people stated a strong preference for multi-tasking, their ability to do so well went up accordingly. The grap below shows that even when people stated they liked to multi-task, if they weren’t very good at it, this wasn’t enough to compensate and deliver strong performance.
What’s more, when multi-tasking ability is poor, the performance of those polychronic folk that enjoy multi-tasking drops below that of their colleagues.
It provides an interesting contrast to a previous study looking at how we respond to interruptions at work. It found that the key to success was in ones mental approach to interruptions. If we didn’t let them bother us, we regained focus much faster. This latest study suggests however that willpower alone is not enough to deliver good performance.
Maybe given our social business driven world, it’s time to start testing candidates for their multi-tasking ability before signing them up for the job.