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Jack of all trades, master of none: is multitasking a myth?

Multitasking has become a recruitment buzzword, as employers want to focus in on candidates who have the most to offer and try to get the biggest bang for their buck.

Variety at work is also a key element for many job-seekers looking for fulfilling and interesting positions. However, scientists have repeatedly called multitasking a myth and there is evidence to suggest that workers who try to constantly do several things at once may actually be less efficient as their focus is drawn in too many directions.

A study by Stanford University which compared the performance of two groups of students found that the multitaskers fared worse. This was put down to multitaskers being more reactive and more easily distracted. Multitasking is also mislabelled; researchers say that we are not really doing several things simultaneously but actually switching quickly between each process, for a heavy multitasker this would typically be 5 or 6 things, which leaves more room for distraction and error. With the exception of semi-automatic functions such as walking, humans are not good at undertaking several tasks at once. The Stanford study actually found that the multitaskers were less able to focus and took longer to complete the tests they were presented with.

This leaves us wondering how best to go about things when a typical role in a modern work environment requires us to divide our focus between many important jobs. iHR Australia's Managing Director Stephen Bell believes that multitasking is predominantly a learned skill that requires practice. "For a lucky few it may be an inherent skill but for the majority, effective multitasking is learned in the formative years at school. With age, learning the skill becomes more difficult but not impossible. A key point for recruiters is not to assume that applicants for a varied role will be able to effectively multitask. Interview questions should be tailored to assess whether an applicant has the necessary skills to perform all elements of the role."

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