Multitasking: Death to Productivity?

Multi-TaskingMultitasking sounds like the solution to all your problems right? Being extremely efficient by checking several things off your to-do list rather than focusing on one task at a time seems like the obvious answer to productivity in the workplace.

In fact, sending a client email, RSVPing to an industry event and confirming travel reservation via telephone simultaneously is possible today. So, why would anyone choose to do only one task in an hour when they can complete three or four different things at once?

We tend to envy those that always have everything together at work. They get all their projects done quicker than their colleagues and they do it exceptionally well. They must be exceptional at multitasking, right? There is no other way they can be so productive and efficient.

Whether in school or taking a seminar on improving work habits, it is often conveyed that learning how to multitask is the answer to going above and beyond everyone’s expectations. Ask a professor, colleague or supervisor about time management and chances are, a majority of them will tell you you must learn to juggle several projects at the same time.

Contrary to popular belief, many studies disclaim that multitasking is the answer to increased efficiency. For researchers studying the effects on multitasking and efficiency over the past few years, the results have not been surprising.

A Stanford University study has shown that every time someone decides to multitask, they decrease their productivity 20 to 40 percent. By trying to achieve too much, multitaskers fail to complete tasks and get caught in clutter and confusion. In addition to achieving less, multitasking can often affect quality of work. Not surprisingly, a New York Times article also stated that researchers found multitasking to be counterproductive as the work is not top quality and the information can be confusing.

Especially with all of the technology available to us, it seems that we are being encouraged to do as much as we can instantaneously, without paying attention to detail or quality. We live in a culture that makes it easy to be a supporter of multitasking. Why else would cell phones, iPads and the Internet have been created?

Consider this: Is technology available for us to better the ability to multitask or is it available to make the one task we focus on easier? In other words, should the Internet let you Facebook, Tweet and finish reports for work at the same time or should it allow you to improve the quality and efficiency of your work report?

By trying to achieve too much at once, it is proven that less gets accomplished and quality of work deteriorates. Not to mention, attempting to achieve a thousand things at once can really take a toll on your health.

A quote from DumbLittleMan.com explains it best:

“Multitasking can literally cause stress. Due to the amount of time multitaskers take to flit between one job and another, they become less efficient and their brain literally slows down. So now we have a situation when all the tasks have not been completed, due to the brain slowing down, which causes stress levels to rise, which in turn leads to mistakes being made and stress levels rise even more. So it’s no wonder that we feel frantic when we try to do too many things at once.”


Guest Expert:

Morgan Norman is the Founder and CEO of WorkSimple, a Social Goal management program, and is passionate about building the first performance management designed for all employees. Connect with him and WorkSimple on Facebook and Twitter.

We are grateful to all of the industry career experts for the top advice and experience they share with our MBA professionals. MBA Highway wouldn't be where it is today without them and their contributions.

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