Polychronicity is the tendency to multi-task. High multi-taskers are ‘polychrons’. Research shows that is, for most people at most times, less efficient and effective than serial monochronicity- doing one thing at a time, one after the other.
But the realities of modern life include interruptions, multiple sources of information, and constantly growing demands. Evidence also seems to suggest that younger generations, who are growing up with social networking technology as a norm of their lives are more comfortable with shared demands on their attention. Only time will tell whether they can find ways to behave as polychrons at work, and keep their response times quick and their accuracy levels high.
For most of us, multi-tasking is a less efficient but necessary requirement. So, the best we can do is to choose when to embrace it, and to do it as well as we can.
Say Yes to Polychronicity when . . .
- You have a high level of experience and expertise
- The tasks are cognitively simple
- The work is low risk, low importance, low consequence for failure
- You have a personality style that handles complexity and uncertainty well
(in MBTI terms, iNtuiting and Perceiving)
- You have strategies to manage the complexity and to track unfinished tasks
- You are in danger of over-focus on a task for its own sake
Say No to Polychronicity when . . .
- There are fine details that you must get right
- You find the tasks complex or unfamiliar
- You want to take pride in the quality of this piece of work
- There are severe penalties for errors and failure
- Your personality is poorly suited to coping with multiple and changing demands on your attention
(in MBTI terms, Sensing and Judging)
- You have a habit of slipping up when you try to multi-task
Five Strategies for making Polychronicity Work for you
- Have a tracking system for all of your tasks
(use a notebook, To Do list, PDA, or software like Trello or Wunderkit)
- Break tasks into smaller chunks, so your polychron-behaviour starts to look more like a serial-monchron approach
- Use ‘bookmarking’ to note where you leave off a task
(use a day-book or sticky notes)
- Stay constantly aware of milestones and deadlines
- Keep your antennae tuned so you can spot tasks that demand your monochron attention.
You might also like ‘The Multi-tasking Fallacy‘.