Stress! We all suffer from it in our lives. Today’s English listening practice picks up from a previous listening practice podcast on the major causes of stress at work. We talk about the reasons some people handle stress better than others. Start listening now to identify and manage stress while you improve your English language skills.
Stress is a major problem working in 2022. With so many people working from home, the boundary between work and home life is blurred. There are many causes for high levels of stress at work. Today, we will focus on one significant cause, which is multitasking.
If you don’t stay on top of your tasks,
there can be serious consequences for your job and your health. We have suggestions on how you should approach dealing with multiple tasks and how this will reduce your stress levels at work.
If you’re a new listener and you are wondering what why this English lesson is so interesting and different from traditional English lessons, then you need to listen to the end of this podcast. Where we have some advice and free resources just for you.
Prioritize Productivity Swap Congratulations Multitasking Consequences Blurred Significant
Recently I did a podcast which looked at what issues are particularly stressful for people in the workplace currently. And I promised I would do some further podcasts, looking at solutions to these problems. Today, I’m going to look at ‘multitasking’, why it might be a problem and what solutions there are for this. And I’m going to help you learn a lot of words that can be used in everyday conversations, especially in conversations about the workplace in English.
Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.
Workplace stress seems to have increased massively during the pandemic. And there is evidence that we’re all under greater pressure to multitask than ever before. And even if you’re not at work - and certainly if you are at home looking after the children - then, multitasking is a pressure for you too. Today then, I’m going to look at why and how multitasking can be a bad thing, especially at work and what you can do about it. If you’re a new listener, congratulations on finding the Adept English podcast. And I’ve got some really important advice specially for you, right at the end of this podcast. So make sure that you listen to the end. You’ll be glad that you did!
Let’s just focus a little on ‘multitasking’. The other issues that I listed in podcast 512, were ‘workplace stress’, ‘burnout’ and ‘decision fatigue’ and I’m going to leave those for another podcast. So let’s focus today on ‘multitasking’.
Multitasking is something that we all do, and it isn’t always a problem. Some people are truly better at multitasking than others. People with small children - if your main job is looking after small children, it’a really difficult to do without being a good ‘multitasker’. And in 2022, fathers may also be the main carer for the children - and handle it really well. What about that old statement that sometimes people make ‘Women are better at multitasking’? Have you heard that? If I’m being really contentious here, there is some research which suggests that women are better at multitasking!
A study in 2013 published by the journal BMC Psychology, found that swapping from task to task wasn’t great for anybody, but that men suffered the effects more. Men took longer to adjust and become productive at a new task than women did. This research took 120 men and 120 women and gave them a computerised test, which meant swapping between activities. ‘To swap’ means ‘to change one thing for another’. ‘To swap’, SWAP - so you can ‘swap’ items, one for another, or activities, one for another.
Men’s and women’s performance was about the same, if they stayed on the same task. But as the test made them swap between tasks, it became clear that women slightly outperformed men. Women were 69% slower, when multitasking and men were 77% slower. It doesn’t sound like that much of a difference, but it would make a difference over time.
Reading about this study made me smile too - the researchers gave the men and women in the study a second test, which involved ‘searching for lost keys’, as well as some other tasks, which were impossible to complete in the time given. And they found that the women were more systematic in their thinking about how to search for lost keys, than men, who were said to be ‘more impulsive’ about it. It’s the sort of study which you could publish in 2013, but I imagine in the UK at least, a big reaction to its ‘sexism’ in 2022, if it were published now!
What’s clear from that research is that the requirement to multitask slows anyone’s performance down significantly. And perhaps in the workplace, if multitasking is something that’s required of you, imposed upon you - and if the expectation is high, it’s more of a problem.
Other research supports the idea that multitasking reduces your productivity! ‘Productivity’, PRODUCTIVITY is a noun and a measure of ‘how much do you produce?’ - ‘how much work do you do?’ in other words. Too much multitasking affects your efficiency, your productivity. You do less overall. If you’re working on a project which needs your focus, your concentration, but you‘re constantly interrupted by telephone calls or people asking for your help, or lots of meetings, it may be difficult to make progress or feel as though you’re achieving anything.
Job satisfaction - that means ‘how positive you feel about your job’ - and motivation can be affected too.
Sometimes multitasking is a problem in a workplace, because you are have to answer to a different boss for each different task, each different part of your work. The problem here may be that nobody but you knows just how much work you have.
Nobody else can see the pressure that you’re under overall. Your bosses may only know or care about the work you do for them. This is a dangerous situation from the point of view of your stress level. Workers can be particularly vulnerable if they find themselves in this situation.
A stressed woman multitasking. Stress is bad for your health. So while you listen and learn to improve your English language skills you can learn to spot the signs of stress and live a healthier and happier life.
One of the questions I always ask my clients ‘How many hours a week do you work?’ If you’re working over 50 hours a week for a long period of time, that will affect your physical and your mental health.
Multitasking makes each task more difficult because we rely to a point on our short-term memory to carry out a task. We have long-term memory, where we can store unlimited amounts of information fairly permanently, forever, if you like, if we learn it well.
But our short-term memory, which we use for tasks, has limited storage - so if we’re constantly multitasking, we’re asking a lot of our short term memory. We’re trying to hold lots of pieces of information about lots of different tasks in our short-term memory, so we don’t perform as well - it doesn’t work!
There’s also evidence that constantly swapping between tasks affects our capacity to concentrate, our ability to focus. If you think about the effects of social media, it’s all designed to capture our attention, but then nothing holds our attention for very long. So our brains become used to only maintaining a focus for short period of time, rather than prolonged periods of deep focus. That’s not good then.
How do we solve this problem of being required to multitask? Maybe first of all, some reflection on how much multitasking you do, what amount of multitasking is required of you and why. Is it necessary? If it is, then you might organise your work into ‘chunks’.
A ‘chunk’, CHUNK is a piece of something, a quite big piece of something - it might be ‘a chunk of cheese’ for example. If you break your work into ‘chunks’, it means that you do a significant amount of work on the same task before moving on to a different task. This will help maximise your productivity when you have several tasks going on and it helps you maintain your focus. In effect, the more ‘task swapping’ you do, the worse it is.
So try to reduce the number of times a day that you swap from one task to another. Computers are great at multitasking. Human beings? Not so much! There’s an ‘overhead’ each time we task swap. It takes time for us to refocus and arrive at concentrating on the new task.
You could prioritize your tasks for the month, the week or the day. ‘To prioritise’, PRIORITISE means ‘to order according to importance’. So if you prioritise your tasks, it means that you don’t lose sight of what’s most important when you’re working.
This will make sure that you’re working on the most important things. Sometimes there are ‘quick wins’ as we say - small tasks that you prioritise, just to get something done, something finished. That’s good for your motivation.
Once you’re aware of how much multitasking is expected of you, make your bosses aware of it. Once they know how much is being demanded of you and they can see perhaps that you have too much work, it’s not realistic, they may help you, they may help reduce your workload.
It’s worth trying anyway! If you’re boss knows that you have too much work and you’re receiving constant interruptions, they may arrange for you to work in a different place or for you to have times when you’re not available to answer questions, when you’re ‘incommunicado’ let’s say, so that you can get on with your work.
And minimize the number of times a day that you check messages, especially your work email. Generally, if people email you, they’re not expecting an answer straight away. Perhaps think of reserving time at the beginning and again at the end of your working day for processing your email.
Constantly checking your email is not usually necessary and it wastes time. The same with your mobile phone! It interferes with your concentration and focus. Those messages will wait! Just check it occasionally!
So there you are - some ideas on multitasking. If you like our podcast and you have a minute to spare, please help Adept English out by giving us a review. Leave us a rating and some feedback on the platform where you listen to us.
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Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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- NHS Stress
- Blurred boundary
- The original article about work stress
- Women 'better at multitasking' than men
- Does Multitasking Impact Focus & Productivity
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