Time Management

Why Multi-Tasking Kills Productivity

Multi-tasking
Written by Paula Gray

Multi-tasking may seem more productive on the surface but ends up costing more time and resulting in more errors.

Multi-Tasking. We all do it.  We’re in the middle of a conference call, and we decide to start working on a power point for an upcoming meeting.  Or we simultaneously answer emails while watching a webcast.  We’re super-efficient by doing two things at once, right?  Wrong.  It’s actually a pretty big fallacy that we are ever doing multiple things at once.  What’s really happening is a subtle yet constant switching between the multiple tasks.

Unfortunately, according to recent research[1], what seems like an effortless, instantaneous shift (sometimes as little as a few tenths of a second) can add up to a major time-waster when done repeatedly throughout a task.  On top of the time it takes to switch visual focus on tasks, the brain requires a bigger shift to prepare to process information for the new task at hand.  Each task has a different set of goals and rules that the brain needs to recognize and manage.

Think of it, the conference call you’re participating in has a much different protocol than the slide deck you’re preparing on your laptop.  The conference call requires you to listen to peers, mentally process the information and then contribute your thoughts or input.  The slide deck is requiring that you convert budget information from a spreadsheet or other report into an interesting graphic while ensuring the accuracy of the numbers and corresponding projections.

Now do this switching over and over and over again and the result, according to the research, is a “cost” of up to “40 percent of someone’s productive time.” Ouch.  Plus, an increase in the likelihood of errors.  Oops.

So what’s the solution, the best-practice for being more productive and getting more done in less time? Focus on one task at a time and when finished or at an appropriate stopping time, move to your next task.  You’ll be able to stay focused and keep your train of thought and accomplish more on your task while reducing the errors which further streamlines your work.

Another solution for being more productive is to develop habits that build more efficiency and productivity into the tasks and tools you already use.  A great resource to learn tips for getting more done in less time is our webcast titled Creating an Efficiency Habit Through Technology.”

[1] Rubinstein, J. A., Meyer, D. E., & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance,27(4), 763-797. doi:10.1037//0096-1523.27.4.763

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.