The Multitasking Syndrome Grows at Breakneck Speed

Humor me a moment and, in your head, take the Multitasking Addiction poll:

  • Do you use your cell phone to text, read emails and do personal stuff while attending a work meeting?
  • Do you have multiple tabs open in your Web browser right now, not all work related?

Note: you bounced to this blog while doing something else, didn’t you…..

  • While you’re working on a project, do you immediately respond to every email that pops up on your screen?
  • Do you text while eating, talking, watching TV or maybe all of these simultaneously?

ALERT: If you checked even one – you’re a chronic multitasker.

The Detriments of Multitasking

Multitasking, sometimes referred to as Continuous Partial Attention or task switching, is defined as conducting two or more unrelated tasks at the same time. As a manager, I am sure you can relate.

Most people believe they are faster and more efficient by multitasking. That’s a myth.  Work flow actually slows down; errors and mistakes increase while individual productivity is decreased. This is not something any of us in the management field can risk.

A recent study at Stanford University proves that point. Researchers put self-described high- tech jugglers and non-multitaskers through a series of tests where they were told to focus on one set of colored shapes flashing on a computer screen and to ignore another set. The habitual multitaskers felt confident about their performance. But it was the non-multitaskers who performed much better while the multitaskers could not ignore the extraneous information.

Why does multitasking lead to inefficiency? Because most people struggle to get back to the point at which he or she was at in a project before an interruption or task switch, according to research firm Basex in their 2005 study on recovery time.  The phenomenon of “recovery time” refers to the time it takes an individual to return to the original task after he or she had been interrupted or moved to another task. In fact, a 30 second interruption of work can result in as much as 5 minutes of recovery time. In some cases, the individual never returns to the original task. Interruptions and task switching consume as much as 28 percent of a worker’s day.

In writing  blogs, I work best in  a quiet place to concentrate and  avoid  impromptu visits from colleagues. Prior to relocating,  I reviewed and completed any other daily items that might crop up  as best I could then turned off my email alert and silenced my cell phone ringer. However, an unexpected client call consumed an hour of my time. My train of thought regarding the blog was dashed and my original time allocated to it was spent. At home, I finally returned to it and finished it at 11:00 pm. Not the most efficient use of time.

For those addicted to fracturing their attention by multitasking, studies show that restraining ourselves is mentally and physically taxing. Yet, according to Jonathan Spira, in his book Overload, a productive worker must exercise self-control. Schedules must be kept, non-work activities must be kept to a minimum, and distractions must be filtered out.

So What’s a Multitasker To Do

Some thoughts for managers:

  • Shape a new environment if you have a complicated project to complete – choose a quiet place where you work best
  • Turn off email notification sounds and pop-up windows
  • Silence your phone
  • Set boundaries with your colleagues to limit impromptu interruptions
  • Grant yourself a reward after a stretch of productivity so you don’t feel deprived
  • Organize your day early with the specific tasks required to get your job done. You then have a roadmap should you get off task

It won’t be easy, but choose one habit contributing to multitasking and break it. You just may regain some of that lost 28% of your day.

Debra Koenig, President, B2A


6 responses to “The Multitasking Syndrome Grows at Breakneck Speed

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