Is multitasking good or bad for productivity?
I have always been good at multitasking, but I have recently had a debate with a friend who said multitasking is actually inefficient. I believe that I can get a lot more done when multitasking, but I do think it sometimes makes it hard to focus. I am curious what others think. I want to be more efficient and organized this year and wondering if I should try to be more focused on one task at a time. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Multitasking is one of those fuzzy and misleading words that leave people to apply their own definition; its no wonder why so many people don’t live up to an employers expectations of “multitasking.”
There's no doubt that some jobs require jumping in and out of functions of that job quickly. Really, what we’re searching for is a person who can “naturally” shift gears quickly and not requires any significant length of time between functions to recalibrate.
Many jobs simply don’t require the rapid juggling of functions, generally, they are poorly defined and have never been totally developed. As such, much of the juggling and rapid shifting can be taken out of the equation with the help of an experienced third party. However, some jobs do, in fact, require rapid shifting and juggling between functions. These jobs require a very specific behavioral trait for shifting gears rapidly. This unique “trait” can be very difficult to interview for and requires a specialized assessment. Without that assessment, you're just rolling the dice and making an unscientific gut-call and hoping it will work out.
Multitasking is bad for productivity, it just feels good. I know, I am a "multi-tasker". I can show you the number of tabs open on my browser, it's not good for my brain, and not good for my computer. I try my best not to do it, but I still fall victim. I burn out easily when I multi-task and also get annoyed since I try to accomplish multiple goals in a single seating.
Actually, there have been numerous articles and papers published on this particular topic. I quote from an article at brainfacts.org, "Studies show people of all ages perform worse on cognitive tests when juggling tasks. But, the effects of multitasking can be even worse on older adult." Sometimes I get annoyed easily when I multi-task since my thoughts become clouded with all of the things I have to think about.
I read an article where it states that the easy access of information nowadays might be the cause of a rise in "multitaskers". Everything feels so instant nowadays that it created a sense of urgency to get a lot of things done now.
Cheers in being more efficient and organized.
The academic research -- and no, I can't cite it, but I've read summaries in the past -- is that multitasking is a net decrease to productivity. Further, those who think they are best at multitasking are the worst multitaskers, in terms of impact to productivity. In other words, multitaskers are kidding themselves.
Just don't do it.
"Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity. Your attention is expended on the act of switching gears—plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/multitasking-art-messing-up-several-things-once-vartika-kashyap
I guess, it is good for a team of developers, for example. But as a leader, I prefer monitoring my employees activity anyway. I use such solutions as those from https://www.refog.com/personal-monitor/ for this purpose. It works great, maybe you will like it too
Both. In my experience most of us need to complete tasks that require input or information from someone else in order to continue to the next step. If you do not work on something else, you'll be wasting valuable time waiting. But, sometimes we need to spend a few minutes clearing our heads in order to shift our focus or do a completely different type of task -- for example, moving from developing a schedule for a client's training series to creating content for a training program. I think the biggest time-wasters are interruptions and learning how to manage and minimize those is essential. I have learned to create uninterrupted time blocks for myself so that I can focus on work that requires full concentration. During those time-blocks I don't answer the phone or check e-mails; if someone interrupts me in person I evaluate the priority of the need and assess the consequences of waiting an hour to deal with something. I think it's important to always be kind to people at these decision-moments.
All in all, I think the key is balancing effectiveness with efficiency. We sometimes may be less efficient to be more effective in our use of time.
I like focusing on one thing, and if I wind up having to do something else, I would want to give that my attention, and go back and focus on the original thing. I'm a one at a time person.
I think what a lot of people consider multi-tasking is actually a simple flow from one task to another but someone (erroneously) put a word to the action and BAM we have a society of multi-taskers. Looking for ways to be increase your productivity and remain focused? Try these tips:
1. For those days when you just can’t seem to get focused: Instead of starting with the most time-consuming or disliked responsibilities, try knocking the top five easiest tasks off your To-Do List. You’ll feel like a sense of accomplishment and will be more motivated to take on more comprehensive work.
2. Use a clock: Try working in a 90-minute cycle and setting your alarm for 75 minutes. Use the last 15 minutes to wrap things up; make notations etc. It also gives the chance to shuffle things around if you decide to continue working on your current project.
3. Block your time on a calendar: Scheduling your tasks on a calendar – instead of in your head or on a piece of paper – can help keep you focused and on time. When it’s possible, leave yourself between 15 and 30 minutes between each project to return phone calls or emails or have a chat with a co-worker. This way you’re not slammed at the end of the day.
4. Manage the distractions – Allow yourself to check your email and voice messages one last time before you being working than turn them off. Send your calls to voice mail and schedule an automatic email to send when someone’s emailed you. Make sure you include instructions for what to do if they have an emergency.
5. Work when you’re the most effective – If you write a business report better in the morning, get to work a little earlier than normal. Work better after your co-workers leave for the day? Pick one-day a week to stay a little later.
Humans aren't hard wired to multitask like we do in the modern world, but some argue Women are much more suited than men in this area. Multitasking is a way of survival in business for many, but it needs to be still focused in its own way. For example emails and telephones can be a big distraction. There is a big cross over between good time management which directly helps with multi-tasking. The issue isn't multi-tasking but how you organise your time, prioritise, and focus on what needs to be done.
If your goal is high quality, no. If your goal is quantity with respect to the number of items you have accomplished, specifically for more "no brainer" (as another colleague put it) activities then you may be ok. If high quality is sought after then multi-tasking while working on that particular task most likely will not yield you the best results.
I'm a firm believer there is a big difference between multi-tasking, task switching, and parallel processing (I'm a tech guy if you can't tell.)
Multitasking for people is not easy because we're not really wired to handle splitting our focus between multiple things. What almost everyone considers multitasking is actually task switching; jumping back and forth between tasks to maintain the perception of simultaneous progress. Parallel processing is the closest we can really get to multitasking and that is based on tasks in action that do not require our attention at any given time.
People's aptitude to task switching or time slicing (a similar but slightly different concept) varies but it all comes down to focus and the quality of the execution. Low value activities lend themselves to task switching because the quality impact is minimal. If you are working on something that demands a high level of quality in the result, doesn't it make more sense to focus?
Good thoughts here. In thinking of the question, and ultimately deciding upon a measure of success for multitasking as an effective approach to completing work, let's say the success metric is twofold: more work completed in a given time (volume) AND no rework created (quality). Given that, here are some thoughts:
* the assumption is that multitasking is the act of doing two things at once: participating on a conference call at the same time as answering emails. For anyone that thinks they are good at this, I would proclaim you are fooling yourself. One task will always be subordinated to the other, regardless of your wishes or claims. Typing an email to client A while on the phone listening to client B discuss product characteristics doesn't even seem like it is set up for success.
* having said the last statement I will counter a bit with this: it is possible to have two tasks operating simultaneously, knowing full well that you will be subordinating one to the other. Match tasks that have natural breaks (I'm waiting for a reply from a client on product characteristics for project A, so while I wait, I will draft an email to client for project B).
* Tasks have natural break points. Use those natural break points to overlap your tasks and allow yourself a way to keep your brain fresh by working on multiple problems throughout the day. Keep in mind this fundamental flaw in multi-tasking: the more you break up a task into smaller pieces so you can work on many things at once, the more time you will lose in reviewing where you are in each project when you make the switch. Think about trying to read many book at once, all with the idea that you will get done sooner. Every time you change from one book to the next, you have to spend time getting "caught up" with where you left off. The more books you have, the longer it takes to get caught up and the more time is lost to non-value added activity.
Bottom line: multi-tasking has its place when it is right sized to the situation. Nothing is better than managing a project and its tasks end-to-end and looking for ways to cut out waste to get more done in a year.
I am a Recovering Multitasker who still occasionally falls of the wagon. After years of thinking I was being effective and efficient I realized I was neither and the quality of my work was suffering. One of the things that set me on the right path was the book BrainChains by Dr. Theo Compernolle, which I highly recommend. I've since endeavored to stop all forms of multitasking, even going so far as turning off my mobile devices and email when I'm doing any type of creative work or critical thinking. I'll set a timer, come up for air every 45-mintues and check to see if there are any emergencies that need my attention. If not, I'm back to what we call "Heads Down" mode. I have found myself to be more productive, effective and efficient.
Ok... think about it, can you really do two things at once. I can't even drink coffee and type on my computer - effectively, and without a wet keyboard:))
So the question is - can you do 2 things at once, and do them both well. I would say, it depends.
It depends if you can disconnect from one train of thought and action, and move to another with clarity, focus and purpose. Most cannot, some can. I tend to be very effective at blocking out 5-15 minutes to work on a part (or whole, though rarely) of a task, i.e. daily goal setting, then organizing my schedule, then making phone calls, etc.. But I am never truly doing those at the same time. As others stated, to do anything effectively, you have to have focus on something.
Now, how can you be more efficient and organized this year.... assuming you can only focus on 1 task at a time, whether that be 5 minutes or 5 hours?
Here is a practice I use myself every week (and advocate to my clients as well)...and trust me when I proudly state - I get a lot of stuff done, and done well.
Sunday (whatever time is best for you) - take 10 minutes to look over your goals and write out the 1-3 goals you want to accomplish by week's end. Then list out every task or activity you need to do that week to accomplish those goals.
Each weekday morning - take 5 minutes to identify the 1-3 must do's / top priority tasks from your Sunday list, that you will ONLY work on that day. Once you have the 1-3, prioritize those.... now, each day, work on ONLY the top #1 task until completion (or if you are like me, based on the time you want to alott, before needing a distraction and working on #2). But, you need to have only allotted that time if you can still get #1 done by day's end (or however much time you defined that task will take).
Once you have completed that task... OR say life causes that task to no longer be important, you simply go back to your list of goals and reprioritize, identify the 1-3, prioritize the tasks to complete... and you start all over again.
Sounds cumbersome, but trust me and the majority of clients... it becomes second nature and a discipline versus a burden very quickly.
BOTTOMLINE - to be more organized and efficient it takes planning. You have to commit to believing and executing on that or you never gain that efficiency.
You cannot be organized and efficient by keeping things in your head, not having a plan on what needs to get done, and acting on it based on the importance of the work that needs to get done.
Disclosure - the above Sunday, weekday goal setting process assumes you have defined your Yearly, Quarterly or Monthly goals..... in order to be able to act on and achieve your Weekly goals. But just because you don't have them today, doesn't mean you don't stop right now, and lay out your plans for the year, quarter, month or week now. Let me know if you want a workbook to help you.
I would suggest a slightly different perspective. Most tasks are not performed in a vacuum. And, usually the more utilized a resource is (that would be you) the longer (including queuing) it takes to complete a task. So, have you considered the group, in addition to the individual, impact in your quest for optimizing productivity?
I agree with what Mike said. Multi-tasking for no brainers work okay. With focusing on one thing at a time can get more done, with better efficiency and excellence.
I always thought the hard issues that take time to plan, prepare and execute needed to be addressed in order of their priority to you and your organization..... Multi- Tasking can interfere with a conscious effort in working through a difficult problem, since your mind can be thinking about 2 many things at once. That said however, usually issues that are interdependent can be addressed without worrying about the multi-tasking aspects..... Always work on the difficult in thought and the easier routine tasks saved until later....
The science aside, which disputes the multi-tasking condition, it's best to do what works best for you. I surmise you are asking the question because your friend got you wondering. If a healthy debate puts me on the fence I tend to give strong consideration to evaluation and possible change.
I think you have to apply the skill of multitasking to the scenarios that arise each day. As a leader of people and manager of processes the skill of multitasking must be controlled in order to bring the multiple events to a desired conclusion each day. At the end of the day if multiple items remain short of desired conclusion then multitasking could be the problem requiring more focus on the skill itself.
I am on the side that thinks multitasking is one of the very most inefficient ways of going about your day and I train and manage against this 100%. In fact, I think I even read that the human brain is incapable of truly multi-tasking as we are just not wired that way. An alternative to this will be to group tasks and knock things out in batches (especially email). Give it a try and I think you will see your day open up by a couple hours.