Multi-tasking: Not as Efficient As You ThinkMulti-tasking: Not as Efficient As You Think

Nurses multi-task. Every day, every minute. It’s one of our go-tos to accomplish all the tasks we need to perform whether we are involved in patient care, management, or another vein of nursing. If there was an Olympic event for multi-tasking, we’d definitely bring home a medal.

In the past, multi-tasking was perceived as a great skill to have. Even in interviews employers have asked how adept a prospective employee was at multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is nothing new — we’ve all been doing it while talking on the phone and cooking, driving, etc., and we’ve gotten so good at it that we think nothing of it and believe we are excellent multi-taskers. The truth is, we are fooling ourselves.

The Science of Multi-Tasking

In the past decade, several studies on multi-tasking have shown that multi-taskers are actually “multi-distracted” and while they are performing a multitude of tasks, they are doing none of them well.

Only a rare 2 percent of the population actually have the ability to be super multi-taskers, according to cognitive psychologist David Strayer at the University of Utah. He concluded that a “supertasker” can balance challenging tasks and not experience the loss of focus like the other 98 percent of the population.

Even though we are multi-tasking, what we are really doing is performing each task one at a time, but rapidly switching between them while simultaneously straining our attention, memory, and focus. No task is given 100 percent of the attention it needs to have in order for it to be performed with complete accuracy.

Strayer conducted studies on driving and talking on a cellphone, which demonstrated that drivers engaging in this common behavior showed diminished concentration levels as though they’d consumed two or three cocktails.

Nurses Multi-Task

Unfortunately, for nurses, there is no easy way out of multi-tasking. Some of us keep patients alive with our ability to multi-task. But there are some practices you can incorporate into your life and work that can improve your focus while multi-tasking and decrease the risk of forgetting vital information or worse, making a mistake.

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Multi-tasking: Not as Efficient As You Think1. Practice meditation. This ancient practice increases the ability to focus, maintain an inner calm, and decrease the likelihood of succumbing to distraction. This is something that you can practice daily, at any time of the day, and for any length of time.

A nurse friend of mine practiced for a few seconds every time she rode an elevator and for a few moments in her car before and after her shift. She said simply claiming those moments helped her in her work as a cardiac critical care RN. You can do this even if you only have a few minutes at various intervals throughout your day.

2. Manage your social media and Internet time. Keep email/Facebook/Twitter checks to the minimum or plan your day in blocks of time. Is there really a need to check your email more than once a day? Perhaps, but also consider this: how many times a day do you check your home’s mailbox?

It’s okay to schedule your time so that you’re only checking devices once per day. If anyone needs to get in touch with you immediately, they probably know how to reach you.

3. Keep note taking tools handy. Whether it’s sticky notes, index cards or mini legal pads. Having those in several places (your pocket, locker, nightstand, car), helps you make a quick note any time. Stay focused on the one task you are doing, and if you get interrupted, make a quick note.

Once done with the current task at hand, focus on the “interruption” and manage or complete that. Do not try to do multiple things at any one time. It will actually slow you down and decrease your productivity and efficiency.

So what are some of your tips and tricks to multi-task effectively without letting it overwhelm and distract you? Every little tip can help another nurse and who knows… maybe we’ll turn your responses into a future blog!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RNAbout the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within’, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.