An increasingly prevalent menace in the workplace, switchtasking ignites a variety of problems for productivity across all levels. Rather than devoting full attention to one task at a time, many jump from one tab to another, attempting to tackle their overload of responsibilities.
Switchtasking is the rapid change of tasks; toggling from email, to instant messaging, to a presentation and back to the task at hand, which undermines productivity and creates inefficiencies in the workplace. In a managerial or leadership role, it is challenging to reduce switchtasking while still expecting timely responses and completion of tasks. Switchtasking has also been associated with increased mental fatigue, lack of creativity, poor quality work and employees feeling overworked.
In the modern world with technology and the seemingly instant demand of information and collaboration, how do managers regulate switchtasking to optimize their teams productivity and efficiency?
Tackling each of these negative outcomes begins by understanding the root of the cause. The association between mental fatigue and switchtasking likely stems from individuals feeling as though they have attempted to solve a variety of problems and have worked on a number of tasks throughout the day. Yet, in reality they have worked on the same task in 20 minute increments then, have lost focus and had to re-evaluate the situation once returning to the original task. Which directly explains a lack of creativity in problem solving. Having a stop-go motion does not allow for continuous, devoted and fully developed thoughts on how to address specific situations. Being a large contributor to company success, innovation and productivity, behaviors that halt creative thinking are counter productive to the workplace.
Switchtasking has also been associated with lower quality work and increased errors. When switchtasking, attention to detail seems to be spread among a number of different tasks `whereas in a traditional focus of one task at a time, all of the attention is devoted to one objective at a time, improving quality and clarity in outputs. Finally, the obstacle of switchtasking seems to heavily impact reports perceptions of their work-life balance. Individuals frequently feel overworked because with switchtasking, the tasks do not end once individuals leave the office. Switchtasking can frequently grow from the feeling that direct reports need to immediately respond to emails, messages and drop whatever they may be doing to address these things which will continue at home.
Here are some tips to help managers reduce the level of switchtasking within their teams:
1. Create a clear prioritization system for direct reports
Creating a clear prioritization system for direct reports will significantly reduce switchtasking in teams. If direct-reports are able to analyze and determine the importance of tasks, they will be more apt to individually focus on one task at a time and they will be less likely to use time on less-important tasks. A prioritization system will also communicate to direct reports that each task is not urgent and can wait until they have completed their current task. This will also exhibit significant improvements in the quality of work and creativity in the workplace that impact direct reports attitudes, job satisfaction and job performance.
2. Encourage Time Management Planning
Another contributor of switchtasking is direct-reports feeling as though they will not have enough time to address all of their responsibilities. By encouraging segmented days and improved time management with plans of certain assignments, managers can expect improved quality of work and continuous creativity as team members are devoted to specific tasks for specific amounts of time to focus. Direct-reports will be confident that they will eventually address each task they are responsible for. Additionally, direct-reports may heavily benefit from breaks in between these tasks to ensure they do not feel overworked, overwhelmed or that they are experiencing unequal work-life balance. Encouraging transitioning times throughout the day and predetermined plans will significantly decrease switchtasking in the workplace.
3. Set communication expectations
By setting clear communication expectations, managers can indirectly discourage switchtasking. Creating clarity in expectations will allow teammates to address emails or messages once they get a chance, in a break period or, within the time they are working on that specific task. Do not expect immediate responses from every employee the instant they are contacted, appreciate that they are devoting their time and full attention to produce the best quality work possible.
4. Lead by example
If managers expect direct-reports to avoid switchtasking and devote full attention to tasks, they should be exhibiting the same standard. When in meetings, managers should focus fully on the topic of discussion, avoid taking phone calls when in meetings with teams and, confidently demonstrate the expectation of complete attention, effort and persistence when working on tasks that will overall create better results team-wide.
5- Be flexible!
A great deal of managers struggle to embrace mistakes. In implementing these new ideas to improve productivity, managers should focus on building a culture that embraces mistakes and allows collective learning and improvement for an entire team. Being a flexible and innovative role model will heavily improve the effectiveness of these steps. Effective leaders focus on understanding others and the best practices for specific teams. Know that sometimes switchtasking is necessary but, that does not undermine the effectiveness of these tips in a team setting that will overall contribute to the betterment of the team both in the output of work and, the well-being of the team's members.
Reducing switchastking requires time, effort and clear explanation of the new programs for effective implementation. Managers who promote the above efforts and prioritize their employees will see results in attitude and work product.
Although difficult, managers should remember that it may take time to see results and feedback is crucial for growth. To view metrics on the implementation of new programs, consider utilizing AIM insights to view data at any given point throughout the year. Additionally, take time to focus on relationships within teams that lead to productive and cooperative dynamics that will improve the overall efficiency in the workplace.