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How To Avoid Dangers Of Multitasking With The Right Office Fit Out

In today's hectic, fast-paced work environment, the ability to multi-task is often viewed as a desirable and admirable attribute for employees to have. After all, a typical morning may include listening to instructions from a senior staff member, while simultaneously checking emails and text messages, organising paperwork and sipping on coffee.

Yet, scientific research has shown that multitasking can be incredibly draining, hindering productivity and even adversely affecting the health of some employees. However, the right office fit out can do wonders to improve the situation, because the workplace itself can play a significant role in minimising damage caused by multitasking.

The Multitasking Problem

Avoid Dangers Of Multitasking
Despite being seen as a positive trait, regular multitasking can be damaging, both for your business and for your employees' health. According to researchers at McGill University, rather than doing multiple tasks simultaneously, multitasking involves frequent switches, which drains oxygenated glucose from the brain.

The main result of this is that employees who are constantly multitasking start to feel tired quicker than they would if they were focusing on single tasks. This tiredness then makes it difficult to concentrate, and this tallies with research from Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, who have found that multitasking:

  1. Increases the chances of making mistakes
  2. Makes staff more likely to miss important information
  3. Hinders both problem solving and creativity
In addition to these work-related problems, multitasking has also been shown to elevate stress levels, which can cause or contribute towards a number of health issues and increase staff absenteeism.

Minimising Interruptions

Fortunately, some of the problems associated with multitasking can be helped through an intelligent workplace design or office refurbishment. Hammerness and Moore both recommend something called 'set shifting', where staff focus on the task at hand and then completely and consciously shift their full focus to another task.

Of course, this requires staff to be free from interruptions. Indeed, interruptions are one of the biggest obstacles to a healthy mindset. Gloria Mark, a professor from the University of California, Irvine, says when people are interrupted, it takes an average of 23 minutes to return to their work. Moreover, people who are regularly interrupted start to develop shorter attention spans and even form a habit of self-interruption.

In terms of office design, one option is to provide staff with the ability to work in designated quiet areas, where they can go and have full confidence that they will not be distracted by questions, conversations and other noise. Other solutions can be the introduction of ‘do not disturb’ door signs for certain areas of the office or meeting rooms in order to respect the need for silent working.

Giving Your Staff a Break

While quiet working may be ideal for increasing focus and minimising interruptions, it isn't feasible at all times, in all workplaces. Staff still need to have a social element to their work and many businesses depend on collaboration and the sharing of information to function. So how do you combat the dangers of multitasking? One of the best ways is to combat the effects. Your staff should be able to take regular breaks to reduce tiredness and your office design should allow these breaks to be effective, with staff getting away from work itself. Increasingly, companies are providing employees with facilities to exercise, play games, or even take a quick nap.

"Using time-tracking and productivity app DeskTime, we've been able to study the habits of the most productive employees," says Julia Gifford from The Muse. "The most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up."

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 19th December 2016.
Reno Macri
Reno Macri is a contributing writer at Inspiration Unlimited eMagazine.

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