While teachers are required to multitask on a daily basis, there are ways to improve your multitasking skills, and times to avoid juggling multiple tasks, that will help increase classroom efficiency.
What is Multitasking?
According to this infographic, teachers make 1,500 decisions every school day. Even teachers who don't think they are multitasking are doing so quite often. However, can the brain actually do multiple things at once?
Studies have shown that the human brain doesn't really multitask, but timeshares, switching from task to task. The brain can only think about one task at a time, and trying to do too many things at once can weaken overall productivity.
Even if true multitasking is impossible, there are ways you can improve managing the myriad of tasks in front of you for a more efficient classroom.
How to Multitask Better
Make a To-Do List
The best way to stay on top of the many things that must be completed in a day is to have a list. Each day before you leave school, make a list for the following day so you can hit the ground running when you get into the classroom.
Items on your to-do list should be items that need to be completed that day. To-do lists have a tendency to get unruly because they are full of items that either don't need to be completed that day or aren't that important.
Research on to-do list ideals also suggests assigning your to-do items with the time that you estimate it will take to complete that task. This is especially important for teachers, so if you find yourself with five spare moments (dare to dream?), you can tackle a task that can actually be completed in that timeframe.
Work on Related Tasks
As stated earlier, the brain can't focus on more than one thing at once, so it hops from task to task. If you work on related things together, the distance the brain has to hop from task to task is shorter, and thereby makes you more productive. Whenever we make big subject shifts in the classroom it takes a second for our students to catch up, so should we be surprised that our brains work the same way?
This also applies to checking email. Checking email constantly can get your brain off the task that it was working on, as it is switching gears quickly. Instead, consider checking email only a few times a day, in batches, to help your overall focus and productivity.
The head of the faculty at an institution where I worked had a note above her computer monitor that stated, 'wonder woman does not exist'. I think all of us, regardless of gender, can appreciate that sentiment. We can't do everything and be everything to everyone all the time, even if it feels like we don't have a choice.
However, we do have a choice. Regardless of the age and subject you teach, you can delegate. Very small students can help collect papers or clean up. Older students can write on the board or help keep track of time for certain exercises. Think of what your students can do to help take a few tasks off of your plate.
Just as our eyes need the occasional break from a computer screen, our brain also needs a break. When you can, take a few moments to decompress and give your brain a rest from its hopping from task to task. Imagine Learning suggests incorporating mindfulness techniques in your classroom, as they can help everyone, including your students, feel more calm and alert afterwards.
Routine and Practice
If you have a few tasks that you do every single day, get in the habit of also doing them at the same time each day. One source explains that doing them at the same time each day will create a habit, and you can complete the task with less focus in the future.
Effective multitasking takes practice, so give yourself some time to master it. If you're following these guidelines and being kind to yourself regarding expectations, you will likely become more efficient over time.
When Not to Multitask
When You Are Distracted
Multitasking is asking a lot of your brain, so don't overload it and give it more than it can handle. Much like constantly checking emails, other distractions can cut down on your productivity, such as lighting or noise. If possible, turn off the computer monitor and close the door when you want to be at your best.
When the Task is Very Important
It might seem to go without saying, but an important task deserves its own time. The American Management Association advises that when a task requires your full attention, do so, and then get back to multitasking the lower priority items on your to-do list.
If it Doesn't Make You More Efficient
If you've followed these guidelines and you've been practicing your multitasking, yet still seem to be working at the same level (or below) of efficiency, maybe multitasking isn't your style. Some research has stated that multitasking is 'neither effective nor efficient' and that multitaskers are more prone to errors. If it isn't increasing your efficiency, toss it out. After all, according to that earlier infographic, you still have 1,499 more decisions to make today.