Multi-tasking: Don’t Do It

As nurses we have prided ourselves on how well we multi-task. In many ways it is a necessary part of our job. Whether we are providing patient care, case managing, triaging, or doing some other type of nursing care we ultimately have to multi-task at some time.

We all do it. Most of us can do it without even thinking about it. We talk on the telephone while we are cooking, dusting, driving, or a variety of other tasks. Driving and eating was so common place when I was a case manager for a company in Minneapolis that one of the nurses joked that she taught new case managers “Eating in the car 101”.

A number of studies have demonstrated that when you multi-task you are not performing any of the tasks well. When you multi-task you are actually quickly switching your focus back and forth between each task. This takes your attention away from each task for short periods of time causing you to have to refocus every time your return to each various task.

The key is to multi-task as little as possible.

One thing you can do is to be mindful. I am sure you have heard this term at some point during your life. Being mindful is about being as focused as possible on the task at hand. While you are changing the dressing on that wound, focus on the wound. What is its size, its color, its depth, its characteristics? I am sure I don’t have to tell you to focus on the smell, you probably can’t avoid that. It is important not to be thinking about what you are planning to cook for dinner or what your child said to you before you walked out the door this morning. Mindfulness is critical to doing the task at hand as well as you possibly can even if you think you can do this task in your sleep.

Multi-tasking actually slows you down and makes you less efficient and less effective. I think that being mindful and focusing on one task at a time is actually one skill that sets excellent nurses apart from mediocre nurses.

How can you apply mindfulness in your work day? What ways can you use to catch yourself when you aren’t clearly focused on the task at hand? Mastering this skill will serve you just as well if not better than learning to multi-task.

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