The Stress of Mul­ti­task­ing in the In­surance In­dus­try

Insurance - - LIFESTYLE - by W.M.A. Wan Hussin

Like many other pro­fes­sions, mul­ti­task­ing in the in­surance in­dus­try is al­ways looked at in many forms. Numer­ous web­sites and job ad­ver­tise­ments men­tioned cat­e­gor­i­cally amongst the long list of pro­fes­sional forte the pro­fi­ciency in mul­ti­task­ing as one of those pre­req­ui­sites.

Many stud­ies have re­ported that mul­ti­task­ing can re­duce pro­duc­tiv­ity by ap­prox­i­mately 40 to 50 per­cent. This is be­cause switch­ing from one task to an­other makes it dif­fi­cult to tune out dis­trac­tions and can cause men­tal blocks that slow down your progress. Mul­ti­task­ing is seen as a neg­a­tive act that could bring more dam­age to the or­gan­i­sa­tion than the pos­i­tive point of com­plet­ing a cou­ple of tasks in a given time frame. On the con­trary, mul­ti­task­ing is seen as a pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic as many be­lieve that while it is no easy feat to ac­com­plish, once you nail it, you can be­come so much more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive in what­ever projects you have on your plate. The skills of switch­ing tasks and get­ting them com­pleted in a given time need some form of balancing tal­ent and skill. There are also times when mul­ti­task­ing is the only op­tion but chunk­ing is an even bet­ter choice as it in­volves less start-up. The fol­low­ing ar­ti­cle looks into both sides of mul­ti­task­ing that you po­ten­tially com­bine to save time and max­imise your pro­duc­tiv­ity, and how to get the best out of it.

Un­der­stand­ing mul­ti­task­ing

In one of the many In­surance Cus­tomer Ser­vice Agent Tem­plates that I have seen, it men­tioned the job scope “…that in­volves re­solv­ing cus­tomer’s prob­lems and in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case with the cus­tomer in per­son or over the phone, and to re­view the claims sta­tus with the deal­ers as per the stan­dards of the com­pany and help the cus­tomers ….” The main aim is to re­solve the is­sues smoothly; how­ever, the cus­tomer ser­vice agents are re­quired to es­ca­late the is­sue to the next level if nec­es­sary. This is mul­ti­task­ing! As in many pro­fes­sions, mul­ti­task­ing within the man­age­ment con­text is al­ways seen as a neg­a­tive act that could bring in more dam­age to the or­gan­i­sa­tion than an ad­van­tage of com­plet­ing a cou­ple of tasks in a given time frame. In many stud­ies, the im­pact and ex­tent of dam­age caused by mul­ti­task­ing is de­ter­mined by mea­sur­ing the time lost in switch­ing tasks. It has also been proven that many work­ers were slower when they had to switch tasks than when they re­peated the same task. As tasks be­came more com­plex, the amount of time lost is more sig­nif­i­cant when work­ers switched be­tween mul­ti­ple tasks. Look­ing at it from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive, mul­ti­task­ing is by no means an easy feat to ac­com­plish. Once you nail it, you can be­come much more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive in what­ever projects you have on the plate. Whether you are at home with house­hold chores or at work, mul­ti­task­ing mul­ti­ple projects re­quires fo­cus, at­ten­tion to de­tail and a flaw­less sched­ule that ac­com­pa­nies the flex­i­bil­ity to change what you need to do in or­der to get the job done. There are numer­ous ad­van­tages of mul­ti­task­ing, par­tic­u­larly when you do it within a work en­vi­ron­ment that works best for you. Tak­ing on sev­eral projects at once is ei­ther a bonus tal­ent that helps you out from time-to-time, or a nec­es­sary skill you need to keep a busy pace. What­ever the rea­son, it is im­por­tant to be alert and spend just the right amount of time on the tasks. Too much time on any given thing could lead you to drop­ping the ball on other tasks, whereas the lack­adaisi­cal com­ple­tion of ev­ery­thing is un­de­sir­able as well. Mul­ti­task­ing on mul­ti­ple projects means you don't have to worry about be­com­ing bored at work or with your per­sonal projects. The more va­ri­ety you have in your work, the more it will keep your in­ter­est. This par­tic­u­larly

…mul­ti­task­ing has to be han­dled strate­gi­cally so [it] is man­aged by what is known as men­tal ex­ec­u­tive func­tions which con­trol and man­age other cog­ni­tive pro­cesses and de­ter­mine how, when and in what or­der cer­tain tasks are per­formed.

ap­plies to the work­place, as mul­ti­task­ing on dif­fer­ent projects means you may not be do­ing the same thing ev­ery day, which keeps your work life fresh and in­ter­est­ing. Mul­ti­task­ing is a clear sign of lead­er­ship, as it shows your abil­ity to com­part­men­talise and pri­ori­tise var­i­ous projects at one time, while get­ting them all to­wards the point of com­ple­tion. If your projects are work-re­lated and you are vy­ing for that big pro­mo­tion, mul­ti­task­ing mul­ti­ple projects at one time may show your su­pe­ri­ors that you are ready for new chal­lenges. This means you don't miss out on the ex­pe­ri­ence and op­por­tu­nity that any of your projects may af­ford you. You aren't choos­ing to learn one new skill or en­gage in one set of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in ex­change for miss­ing out on the oth­ers. This is a dis­tinct ad­van­tage of mul­ti­task­ing numer­ous projects be­cause you are en­hanc­ing your over­all field of ex­pe­ri­ence and adding sev­eral new projects to your reper­toire at one time in­stead of just one. The key is to re­alise what you are ca­pa­ble of and not take on more than you can han­dle. This is both a per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ad­van­tage. Not only are you show­ing your­self what you are ca­pa­ble of, but you are show­ing oth­ers around you as well. Mul­ti­task­ing on mul­ti­ple projects means ex­po­sure to dif­fer­ent teams and groups of peo­ple, and your success in man­ag­ing the numer­ous ven­tures in­spires con­fi­dence in your col­leagues. It also opens doors to new op­por­tu­ni­ties as you ex­pose your­self to dif­fer­ent types of work.

The truth of mul­ti­task­ing

In the present com­pet­i­tive world, the in­creas­ing de­mands on our lives – pro­fes­sional work, house work, rais­ing chil­dren, find­ing time for ex­er­cise for good health, com­mu­ni­ca­tion via tele­phone, twit­ter, text mes­sag­ing or email – we of­ten find our­selves rac­ing for time. Time is al­ways lim­ited with the many things to do, so be­ing se­lec­tive on the many tasks at hand may not be the best an­swer. To com­pen­sate, mul­ti­task­ing is the norm for many of us who are look­ing for strate­gies to save time and be more pro­duc­tive in our daily ac­tiv­i­ties. New avail­able tech­nol­ogy al­lows us to mul­ti­task at work, in the car, at home, and in many other places and oc­ca­sions. We some­times find our­selves mul­ti­task­ing with tasks we never thought we could do at the same time. While many may dis­agree, how about fo­cus­ing on the avail­able time and en­ergy on one task to gen­er­ate leads and new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties? Or will you see more re­sults by di­vid­ing your time and en­ergy among the many dif­fer­ent tasks to en­hance your mar­ket­ing? Did you know that mul­ti­task­ing does not ac­tu­ally in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity? The more tasks we do and the more mar­ket­ing we throw out there, of­ten the less pro­duc­tive we be­come. There is a com­mon thought that with mul­ti­task­ing, we must do more than one thing at a time to ac­com­plish the grow­ing list of ac­tiv­i­ties that pulls on our lim­ited time. How­ever, facts have proven that although we feel we are get­ting more done, we are ac­tu­ally giv­ing our­selves more work when we mul­ti­task. When we mul­ti­task by per­form­ing two or

Mul­ti­task­ing can mean per­form­ing two or more tasks si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It can also in­volve switch­ing back and forth from one task to an­other, or per­form­ing a num­ber of tasks in rapid suc­ces­sion.

more re­lated tasks at the same time or by al­ter­nat­ing rapidly among them, er­rors greatly in­crease. How can this be fixed? I am not go­ing to say it will be easy, but I have made three goals to help com­bat this prob­lem and be­come more ef­fi­cient in my time man­age­ment. It’s only three, but it’s a start.

Un­der­stand­ing mul­ti­task­ing

So, what does mul­ti­task­ing really mean? Mul­ti­task­ing can mean per­form­ing two or more tasks si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It can also in­volve switch­ing back and forth from one task to an­other, or per­form­ing a num­ber of tasks in rapid suc­ces­sion. To many of us, mul­ti­task­ing is seen as a pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic as switch­ing tasks and get­ting com­pleted in a given time needs some form of balancing tal­ent and skills. The fact is mul­ti­task­ing is ac­cepted as a way of mod­ern life. We could be driv­ing and at the same time dis­cussing with a part­ner on a very im­por­tant is­sue. When you are read­ing this ar­ti­cle, chances are you are also do­ing sev­eral things at once; per­haps you are also lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, on­line chat­ting with a friend, check­ing your emails or play­ing a com­puter game. As mul­ti­task­ing is seen as a norm, chances are many of us are ‘heavy mul­ti­taskers’ and think that we are fairly good at this balancing act. What is al­ways for­got­ten is that we are prob­a­bly not as ef­fec­tive at mul­ti­task­ing as we think we are. In the past, many peo­ple be­lieved that mul­ti­task­ing was a good way to in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity. What is lack­ing is the un­der­stand­ing of the fact that switch­ing from one task to an­other takes a se­ri­ous toll on pro­duc­tiv­ity. Mul­ti­taskers, es­pe­cially the heavy­weights, have more trou­ble tuning out dis­trac­tions than peo­ple who fo­cus on one task at a time. Do­ing so many dif­fer­ent things at once can ac­tu­ally im­pair cog­ni­tive abil­ity.

Strate­gic mul­ti­task­ing

So, mul­ti­task­ing is seen as a neg­a­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic that af­fects pro­duc­tiv­ity. What if you have to do mul­ti­task­ing as that is the only choice avail­able? Ac­cept­ing neg­a­tiv­ity con­sciously needs tal­ent. As mul­ti­task­ing can mean per­form­ing two or more tasks si­mul­ta­ne­ously, or switch­ing back and forth from one thing to an­other, per­form­ing a num­ber of tasks in rapid suc­ces­sion needs per­se­ver­ance and

per­sis­tence. If the strength of th­ese two at­tributes is slack­ing, pro­duc­tiv­ity will be im­paired, more time is lost and above all, qual­ity is ques­tion­able. But a time must come when mul­ti­task­ing is the only op­tion of the day. As a re­sult, mul­ti­task­ing has to be han­dled strate­gi­cally so that the pos­i­tives su­per­sede the neg­a­tives. Mul­ti­task­ing is man­aged by what is known as men­tal ex­ec­u­tive func­tions which con­trol and man­age other cog­ni­tive pro­cesses and de­ter­mine how, when and in what or­der cer­tain tasks are per­formed. There are two stages to the ex­ec­u­tive con­trol process: the first is known as ‘goal shift­ing’ which is de­cid­ing to do one thing in­stead of an­other, and the sec­ond is known as ‘role ac­ti­va­tion’, which changes the rules to per­form the pre­vi­ous task to a set of new rules for the new task. Although the time taken to switch per­form­ing goal shift­ing and role ac­ti­va­tion may take a few tenths of a sec­ond, the time to per­form both tasks will add up, es­pe­cially so if the two tasks are switched back and forth re­peat­edly. This might not be that big of a deal in some cases, such as when you are chang­ing tele­vi­sion chan­nels and read­ing the news­pa­per. It will only turn out to be sig­nif­i­cant in cases where safety, dead­lines or pro­duc­tiv­ity are crit­i­cal, such as when you are on the way to an im­por­tant meet­ing and get­ting caught in heavy traf­fic, even small amounts of time can prove crit­i­cal.

Assess­ing mul­ti­task­ing

be­fore try­ing to ac­com­plish the task is vi­tal so that dis­trac­tions and stress are elim­i­nated. It is im­por­tant to fo­cus on one task at a time rather than cram­ming more in a quest to get more done for mul­ti­task­ing is not go­ing to work, un­der most cir­cum­stances. Mul­ti­task­ing can only work when it in­volves triv­ial tasks. For ex­am­ple, as we lie in bed we think about the agenda for an im­por­tant meet­ing to­mor­row. Ly­ing in bed doesn’t take much of the brain’s pro­cess­ing power, so think­ing about the meet­ing agenda is not af­fected even if it is shared with an­other task which is sim­ply ly­ing in bed. On the other hand, two dif­fer­ent tasks which re­quire more of the brain’s ca­pac­ity may re­quire more thought. You might be talk­ing on the phone when you are in the midst of a busy morn­ing traf­fic rush. You may get both tasks ac­com­plished, but you would not have thought of do­ing both tasks bet­ter and in less time if you had done one task af­ter the other in­stead of do­ing both at the same time and end up be­ing stressed.

…mul­ti­task­ing can re­duce pro­duc­tiv­ity by ap­prox­i­mately 40 to 50 per­cent.

Pro­duc­tiv­ity can be re­duced by as much as 40 to 50 per­cent by the men­tal blocks cre­ated when peo­ple switch tasks. Re­al­is­ing the po­ten­tial detri­men­tal im­pact of mul­ti­task­ing and the as­so­ci­ated con­straints can ac­tu­ally make it work to de­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency. De­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, the costs of switch­ing tasks while talk­ing to a friend and watch­ing a movie at home prob­a­bly is not go­ing to cause any se­ri­ous prob­lems. How­ever, that frac­tion of a sec­ond it takes to change tasks could mean life or death for some­one driv­ing down a busy high­way while talk­ing on the phone. It is only good when mul­ti­task­ing can lead to in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity but how is this achieved? Given that mul­ti­task­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity are in­ter­com­ple­men­tary, assess­ing the whole sit­u­a­tion W.M.A. Wan Hussin is a Pro­fes­sor at the School of Civil En­gi­neer­ing, Univer­siti Sains Malaysia. He con­ducts sev­eral cour­ses and train­ing pro­grammes on stress man­age­ment and de­liv­ers pub­lic lec­tures and talks on man­age­ment is­sues for var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions. He is cur­rently a Li­censed Land Sur­veyor, Malaysian Speak­ing Pro­fes­sional (MSP) of the Malaysian As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Speak­ers, Fel­low and Coun­cil Mem­ber of the Royal In­sti­tu­tion of Sur­vey­ors Malaysia, a Cer­ti­fied Pro­fes­sional Util­ity Lo­ca­tor and can be reached at wmabwh@gmail.com.

So, stop mul­ti­task­ing

Mul­ti­task­ing ac­tu­ally wastes a lot of the lim­ited time we have daily. Mul­ti­task­ing in­volves more star­tups thus in­ter­rupt­ing work flow and progress. Learn to prac­tise chunk­ing as it teaches us to be more ef­fi­cient and more pro­duc­tive. The most prac­ti­cal ap­proach is there­fore to set aside chunks of time for spe­cific tasks and re­duce the time spent in start-up mo­ments. As we in­crease the num­ber and size of chunks dur­ing the day and week, we are in fact push­ing away in­ter­rup­tions to the best of our abil­ity. The fact is, no mat­ter how well we chunk, there will still be in­ter­rup­tions. You only make your­self more fo­cussed and more pro­duc­tive as you chunk. So, just chunk as you go.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.