What are multitasking skills and how can they help you?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The ability to multitask can be very useful in a wide array of positions and scenarios. This refers to the ability to simultaneously attend to multiple priorities without becoming confused, demotivated or fatigued. If you want to improve your own multitasking abilities, it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the necessary skills. In this article, we explain what multitasking skills are, the elements of effective multitasking, how you can improve your multitasking abilities and why this is beneficial for both individuals and organisations.

What are multitasking skills?

Multitasking skills allow you to handle multiple responsibilities at the same time. This typically means giving your immediate focus to one particular task while simultaneously monitoring or observing another, or several others. This can also involve rapidly switching from one task to another as needed without confusion or unnecessary compromise. Almost anyone can multitask, but an effective multitasker is able to do this quickly, efficiently and without compromising quality.

Related: The art of multitasking: Definition and examples

The elements of effective multitasking

There are certain other skills that jointly contribute to your ability to multitask. Just as multitasking itself allows you to handle several priorities, so too does this ability require several complementary skills. The skills that are necessary for you to become an effective multitasker are as follows:

Prioritisation

One of the primary contributing skills for good multitasking is prioritisation. This refers to your ability to organise your tasks into a hierarchy of importance or urgency. When you've got multiple tasks or responsibilities to handle, it's important to know which one is the most important at any given time. It's equally important to understand when this hierarchy of priorities shifts and to respond accordingly. For example, if you're a receptionist at the front desk of an organisation and the phone rings, this becomes your highest priority. If someone approaches the front desk in person, your priorities might change suddenly.

How you respond depends on the circumstances. Does the approaching individual appear to be important or in a hurry? How urgent are the needs of the person on the phone? Are there any rules regarding whom to prioritise? Understanding the answers to these questions allows you to make the right decision, which in this case might be deciding which individual to ask to wait.

Related: Receptionist skills: Definition and examples

Time management

Although multitasking involves the simultaneous performance of multiple tasks, it's equally important to know when you're going to be unable to do so. Awareness is very important for multitasking, especially awareness of deadlines. If you assess your circumstances and believe that you're going to miss the deadline for a particular task, it's important that you know how and when to delegate. This ensures that you fulfil your responsibilities on time.

It's also important for allocating time to different priorities. When you know what your responsibilities are for the hour, day or week, you can assess how much time each of these is going to require. You can then allocate time slots and schedule your workload so that you meet your responsibilities.

Delegation

Even the most capable multitaskers are going to encounter scenarios when they require assistance from others to meet their deadlines or responsibilities. This is based on an effective assessment of your circumstances and whether you believe you can accomplish a particular workload within a specific time frame.

For instance, in the example of the receptionist with a person on the phone and another at the front desk, if both are evidently urgent it might be impossible to satisfy both individuals. Instead of taking the risk of making one of them wait, you might call over a colleague to attend to one of these individuals while you handle the other. Your ability to assess the situation and your competing priorities is crucial to your delegation decisions. Conversely, it's important to remember that if you delegate too much, then you're not really multitasking at all.

Organisation

The ability to organise your work and that of others is a fundamental skill of multitasking, as it allows you to perform all of the other skills on this list. Being organised means that you're able to develop structured approaches to your work, which involves listing and re-evaluating priorities, making a schedule that you're able to change, understanding your work in the context of others', and balancing present and future needs. An organised individual can develop a system or structure for performing work, managing unexpected situations and adapting and changing this system as needed.

For instance, if you return to the example of the receptionist, being organised would be very useful. Preparation is an important aspect of being organised, and in this situation would be quite helpful. For instance, you might be quite experienced as a receptionist and understand that competing priorities from customers are common. In this case, you might have pre-arranged for another individual with a connected phone line to be available at these times to take calls so you can deal with in-person visitors, which is arguably the primary purpose of a front desk.

Related: What are organisational skills? (Types and examples)

How to improve your multitasking skills

If you want to improve your multitasking abilities, an organised approach is going to help you best because this is an important aspect of multitasking. To do this, consider following the steps listed below:

1. Develop a schedule

Once you're aware of your tasks and responsibilities, a good first step is to organise these into a schedule. This can also be in the form of a to-do list if you have more autonomy regarding how you organise your work. You can do this daily, weekly or even monthly, depending on the nature of your work and how frequently you receive new tasks and instructions. Organising your various responsibilities can help you to manage them later.

2. Prioritise

Once you know what you're required to do, you can sort your tasks into a hierarchy of priorities. At the top is the most urgent or important responsibility, and at the bottom is the least urgent or important. It's also crucial to understand the difference between urgency and importance, and you might even want to develop separate lists for these. Urgency refers to how soon a task must be completed, whereas importance is how significant the effects of it are. This information can also influence your schedule and any changes you make.

Related: What is prioritising?

3. Reduce distractions

Multitasking requires significant amounts of focus, so try to reduce potential distractions. Your schedule can help you accomplish this, whereby you assign less urgent or important tasks to the time slots where distractions are most frequent. Find some practices that can help, such as listening to music with headphones, using a quiet or unoccupied room, or keeping your office door closed during certain times.

4. Plan and adapt

A very competent multitasker knows how and when to change their schedule. Unexpected scenarios may occur, priorities might change in urgency or importance and distractions can happen. Try to plan for these wherever possible and find ways of adapting and reorganising your priorities when necessary.

Related: What are adaptability skills and how can they benefit you?

The benefits of multitasking

There are various benefits to multitasking, both for you as an individual who possesses them and for an organisation that employs such individuals. Some of the more important benefits are as follows:

  • Increased productivity: An effective multitasker is able to complete more tasks than someone who only performs one task at a time. As a multitasker, this can greatly improve your own performance, especially when compared to others, and employers can derive greater value from these individuals and maybe even higher fewer of them.

  • Reduces time wastage: If you're a capable multitasker, you're going to know how to use your time effectively. This means that there's less time wasted, less procrastination and your high performance can even be a great motivator.

  • Cuts costs: If an organisation can hire a few capable multitaskers, these individuals might be able to complete the work of many more people. This means that an organisation can save significant costs in terms of salaries, even if they pay these multitaskers more.

  • More autonomy: If you're a capable multitasker, this typically means that you're able to effectively manage your own time and responsibilities. This means that you can work more independently and allows your supervisor or manager to focus their attention on other individuals who perhaps require more supervision.

  • Better leadership: Effective multitaskers can also become good leaders, as their organisational and other skills are useful when overseeing the work of others. This increases your own chances of reaching leadership positions as a multitasker, and for organisations, it increases their pool of potential future leaders.

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