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Effects of Multitasking

Jan 08, 2024

Many of us have busy lives, juggling between work and tasks at home. One thought is to perform several tasks simultaneously, so that you can save some time.

Multitasking seems to be a logical solution to time constraints and efficiency. However, is it true that we save time with doing multiple things all at once? And what are we sacrificing?

For example, in a typical clinic day, are you more efficient in seeing the patient, answering messages and ordering tests all at the same time, or if you do those things one at a time?

Our brain is not designed to multitask. It is programmed to do one thing at a time. When you are attempting to do two or more things simultaneously, your brain switches rapidly from one task to another. While this may only take several tenths of a second, the more times you switch tasks, the time adds up. In addition, the cumulative effect of task switching tires your brain. You become less efficient by doing two things at the same time rather than doing them one at a time.

If you are doing two things which both require your attention, it is difficult to perform both tasks well without slowing you down. If you have a habit of doing multiple things at the same time, you may have more difficulty in filtering distractions or insignificant information. Your brain may get confused as to when to switch back and forth from one task to the next.

As multitaskers are always trying to perform beyond the capacity of the brain, as the brain is designed to only focus on one thing at a time, they have higher stress levels, which lead to higher blood pressure and increased heart rate. Some studies have also shown that people who chronically multitask have increased risk of depression and anxiety.

When you are not able to put 100% focus on performing a task, multitasking increases the chance of making mistakes. Overtime, multitasking may also affect your memory.

Multitasking works only when the other task or tasks are automated, or if they do not really require much attention. For example, if you are walking and talking on the phone. That being said, if there is uneven pavement, you may have a higher tendency to trip and fall compared to someone who is just concentrating on walking down that same street.

One question that comes up with physicians seeing patients. Some of them are typing up the chart while seeing the patient. Is that affecting the efficiency?

While there is really no true moment when we are only doing one thing at a time, multitasking is referring to doing two or more things at the same time, and those things require your concentration.

I consider seeing a patient and doing that patient’s chart at the same time or right after the encounter to be the most efficient way to operate the clinical day. Typing in the room while seeing the patient is recording what the patient is telling you in real time, which actually saves you from recalling what the patient said and record it later on. You get to complete the entire patient encounter, including charting, before you switch to see another patient.

The solution to increase in efficiency and quality of work is to do one thing at a time rather than multitasking. It is important to recognize when you have the tendency to multitask. Be intentional of what you do.

Batch things if possible. Do one thing for at least 20 minutes before switching. For example, during your work hours, instead of checking email messages as you receive them, do not set notification for when an email message arrives in your inbox. Set times to check your messages, say two to three times in the span of 8 hours, in between seeing your patients.

Minimize distractions. Design your work flow such that you can minimize any distraction to a minimum. If you are in an outpatient setting, develop a protocol which will decrease the frequency of you being interrupted by your front staff and nursing staff. If you are in an inpatient setting, which is usually a more unpredictable environment, communicate with other clinicians and nursing staff to ensure everyone is on the same page in caring for the patient. That way, you will decrease confusion and avoid unnecessary clarification phone calls.

Remind and reassure yourself that you are capable. You are capable of doing hard things. Things will be done, one at a time, and you will do them well and efficiently.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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