Being a good multitasker was on the job description of pretty much every Assistant role I applied for when I first started as an Assistant. Since then experts have shown that multitasking does precisely the opposite of what we thought it did. So, multitasking doesn’t keep us productive and able to get through lots of work it instead makes us less productive and doing lots of tasks poorly. Time management experts now suggest lots of alternatives to multi-tasking such as batching tasks together, taking regular breaks and completing the unpleasant tasks first. All of these are alternatives are great and having tried so many different approaches to time management I know that multitasking does limit your productivity, but there is still something about this old fashioned method of working that I think still has a place for Assistants. Is multitasking still a useful skill for Assistants? Let’s have a look at a few examples where multitasking might be helpful.
Is multitasking still a useful skill for Assistants?
Tasks that require minimal brain power
We work on lots of tasks that don’t require a tremendous amount of brain power but need to get done. Photocopying board papers for example (trust me, so many businesses still make Assistants do this!), expenses, data entry, the list is endless. So while doing these more mundane tasks, we would be using the time to do something else. For example, while photocopying why not listen to an excellent podcast or audiobook that can help with your career development or listen in on a conference call that your Executive is taking (on silent, so the participants don’t hear the photocopier). When you are working on something that doesn’t use your brain, do something else at the same time that does!
When you find yourself stuck on a task
If you have batched your tasks together or you are trying to finish that one task that is horrendous, rather than procrastinating and getting nothing done why not switch things up and do something else. This isn’t jumping from one job to another per se it is stopping something that isn’t working with the expectation that you will come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Find tasks that don’t conflict with each other
So, for example, don’t switch between checking your emails and writing a report. The report needs your attention so you shouldn’t be multitasking but checking your emails while waiting for something to download makes sense and doesn’t conflict. Find tasks that complement each other rather than pull your thought process from one task to a different task.
Although I think most of us now prefer to focus on one task at a time and complete as much work as we can to the best of our abilities, life for an Assistant just doesn’t work like that because of the number of outside forces that pull our attention in different directions. We know that multitasking doesn’t help us with productivity but what it does do is give us the ability to adjust to what is going on, come up with solutions quickly so that we can refocus on what we were doing before our attention was diverted. The ability to refocus is a huge strength for us, and it allows us to get through so much work in a day because we don’t necessarily spend time trying to remember what we are doing, like a lot of other office workers. So we might not multitask like before, but we can still handle many many tasks at the same time.