Multitasking is a myth, also for event managers

Event managers are jacks of all trades. They bear final responsibility for programming, venue dressing, catering, accessibility, parking, safety, participant numbers and marketing. During the preparatory work, which may last months, it’s important to streamline and combine different processes. As the date of the event draws closer, the number of balls to be kept up in the air grows ever greater.

Are you an event manager who works flawlessly in hectic conditions, always has time for everyone and never has the feeling that it’s all getting just a bit too much? If so, you’ve got everything under control! However, it’s common for event managers not to get everything done that they had intended, despite putting increasingly long hours into the event and being super-efficient at multitasking. Here lies the pitfall: multitasking is not at all efficient. In fact, genuine multitasking is completely impossible!

‘Behavioural scientists at Warwick Business School say multitasking is a myth.

When you phone a customer and read an email at the same time, you’re not really multitasking. The brain will switch from the phone call to the email and back again – a process known as ‘switch-tasking’. That means you haven’t heard part of what the customer said. Not very customer-friendly! In his book Ontketen je brein, neuropsychologist Theo Compernolle writes that you pay a heavy price for switch-tasking. You become less productive, make more mistakes, are less creative and suffer more from stress. Switch-tasking takes a lot of energy!


1. How can you avoid switch-tasking?


  • By creating routine. You can only combine two tasks if one of the tasks can be performed as a routine. In this case the brain will not switch, because this task doesn’t need your attention: it takes place automatically. An example might be brushing your teeth and reading an email. You can build routines by creating templates, by teaching yourself the keyboard short-cuts. By knowing where everything is, by storing things efficiently. This prevents you from wasting attention, time and energy on all kinds of marginal issues. When organising an event, try to work as systematically as possible from day one!
  • By monotasking. Complete one task before you start a new one. This isn’t always easy to do. You’re a point of contact for a lot of people. What’s more, there are always fires to be put out. Don’t give way to temptation: as far as possible, get one job finished before tackling the next one: you’ll get much more done that way.



2. What is the impact of productivity on your event?


Following tips will not only effect your efficiency, it will also engage the visitors of your event.

  • Make a list of tasks you will do the next day. Start in the morning with the most important. You are least likely to be disturbed by emails and phone calls in the morning, and your brain is also in the best shape at that time of day.
  • Work in blocks as much as possible: first complete the security-related work before starting on hotel bookings. Take a short break between blocks so that everything can fall into place and you can pick it up again easily later on.
  • Fix a time when you are available to answer questions, so that people who depend on you don’t disturb you all day long. An additional advantage of doing this is that employees will often come up with a solution themselves. Of course you should remain contactable to deal with any emergencies.
  • You’re surrounded by an extensive team of specialists. Dare to let go! Control freaks and pleasers are the worst multitaskers.
  • Be clear and consistent. If you are distracted during a task that requires concentration, the chances of making mistakes are extremely high. What’s more, the job will take twice as long. Make sure you’re not disturbed during this kind of work. Make it clear that when you’ve finished you will give your full attention to those around you once more (this applies to employees, but also to suppliers and customers). You will find that this is appreciated.
  • Give visitors a break of a few minutes after each breakout session. First function of a break: during the break, your brain stores what you’ve done. Second function of the break: a well-rested brain can come up with ideas and solutions for the event more easily. Here’s an example. Two woodcutters start work. The first works without stopping, while the second takes a twenty-minute break every two hours. At the end of the day their trees are counted. It turns out that the woodcutter who took the breaks has cut down more trees. How is that possible? Because he sharpens his axe during his break.


3. Is switch-tasking inevitable?


Monotasking is always the most efficient approach, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes we have to multitask (i.e. to switch-task). As the day of the event approaches, the tension and the chaos will increase. At every moment in the day the choice will be there: switch-task or monotask. Try to keep on monotasking as long as you can, even on the day of the event. This is better for you and everyone around you. Only start switch-tasking when it’s really unavoidable. And when you do start switch-tasking, try to minimise the cost of the switching moments:

  • Be aware of the switching moments.
  • Let go of the first task as you switch to the second.
  • Focus on your new task and identify what you are doing.
  • Choose the right switching moment.
  • Be mindful.



4. Get started with monotasking


  • Analyse what you do every day. When do you switch? When do you monotask? What impact do your phone and other media have?
  • Start experimenting, and gradually grow accustomed to the new way of working.
  • Start with small steps. After all, you’ve been working the same way for years, and certain elements may even be addictive.
  • You will fall back into your old ways now and then. Be persistent!
  • Set a good example as a manager. You’ll notice that cooperation, the atmosphere and ultimately the results all improve. You’ll become increasingly convinced of the need to stop multitasking as much as possible.


And finally … do take a moment to enjoy the event now and then!


Author Wouter Hesseling has seen hundreds of organisations from the inside over the past 15 years as a business trainer, and uses this knowledge to develop a unique, partly active, evidence-based training session in which he unravels the multitasking myth in an hour and a half. The material that is presented and the exercises in  ‘Multitasking is a myth’ make a powerful impression on participants. When people become aware of their inefficient way of working, after completing the training session they are bursting to put what they have just learnt into practice.