Ken Gaebler, president of PR firm Walker Sands Communications in Chicago, says he's a reformed multitasker. Trying to do two or more things at once seems like good time-management, but it can actually torpedo productivity. "When you try to juggle two balls, you're going to drop one of them," says Gaebler.
Business management experts agree. Ilyce Glink, author of the self-published book The Really Useful Guide to Working Smarter, Not Harder (www.thinkglink.com), cites research indicating that people who try to do several tasks at once actually take longer to do them than if they just did one at a time. "When you're interrupted, it takes time to get back into the groove. If you add up the five or 10 minutes lost to transitional time throughout the day, it really adds up," says Glink.
The worst combination is several complex tasks. You're better off keeping one document open on your computer and concentrating on it until you've polished off a major chunk, advises Glink.
Juggling several seemingly low-brain-engagement tasks simultaneously can also result in gaffes. Responding to a client's e-mail while chatting on the phone, says Glink, is a perfect setup for typos and other embarrassments.
While regulations vary by state, most states require companies to carry unused employee vacation time on their books as a liability, says Jon Van Cleve of management consulting firm Hewitt Associates LLC, in Lincolnshire, Illinois. In the past, most states allowed companies to enforce "use it or lose it" vacation policies so they could avoid letting unused time pile up. But some states have recently changed these rules, says Van Cleve. In California, employers must now let employees carry over a certain percentage of their vacation time into the new year.
To avoid letting that kind of liability pile up, consult with your attorney to find out your state regulations regarding unused employee vacation time. If appropriate, consider setting a policy that limits rollover from one year to the next, perhaps to just a week.
Worried about job security, more Americans are actually choosing to give up time off to stay at their desks. A survey released last May by online travel service Expedia.com found that on average, Americans expected to take 10 percent less vacation time this year. It's up to managers to make sure everyone knows it's a good thing to take a vacation. Says Van Cleve, "It takes a very explicit expectation on the part of managers for employees to actually take the vacation that is part of their official benefits package."
Joanne Cleaver has written for a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Executive Female.