The Myth of Multi-Tasking

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

  • John Wooden (legendary basketball coach)

What else are you doing right this moment while reading this? Making a phone call? Answering a text? Completing your shopping list? Checking out a website? Driving?

We’ve all done it. We’ve been encouraged to do it. We even have encouraged others to do it. Do what… MULTITASK. In an age of constant, multiple and competing demands, we often feel that the only way to get things done is through multitasking. We live in the new millennium… a 24/7 information overload, need it now, need to be more productive age. An age where we…

… work on 3 projects at the same time

… send emails while in a meeting

… answer e-mails while talking on the phone

… text while driving

… e-mail a co-worker while at your childs sporting event

… text while checking out at the grocery store

… read 2-3 books, magazines, articles at the same time

… talk on the phone while placing an order at a restaurant

I’ve often said to co-workers, “multi-tasking will be the downfall of productivity.” I would get all kinds of strange looks, grief and arguments on why I am wrong. I would hear everything from, “it’s the only way I can get everything done” to “working on multiple projects is actually easier for akoestisch behang me than working on one thing at a time.” Sound familiar?

45% of US workers believe they have to work on too many things at once

The truth of the matter is that study after study shows that most people actually CAN NOT multitask. According to a University of Utah study, only 2% of people can multitask effectively. The remaining 98% of us are actually lessening our productivity without even realizing it. In an age of downsizing, right-sizing, and the leaner organization, can we afford to be less productive? Can we afford to knowingly be less productive? Sadly we often confuse multitasking with increased productivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, 98% of us are mono-taskers and by trying to multitask we do EVERYTHING less well. Smartphones, apps, the web; technology in general is encouraging more and more fruitless multitasking.

Other studies on multitasking and productivity show the following:

  • On average, employees who use a computer for work, are distracted once every 10.5 minutes.
  • Trying to focus on more than one thing causes a 40% drop in productivity.
  • Being distracted by incoming calls or emails lowers a persons IQ by 10 points; the equivalent of missing a night of sleep.
  • The average (desk job) employee loses 2.1 hours to interruptions or distractions; adding up to 546 hours annually.

Multitasking or doing several things at once is simply a trick we play on ourselves. We believe, feel and think we’re accomplishing more. The reality is that our productivity is decreasing by as much as 40%. By shifting from one task to another, we’re simply interrupting ourselves, decreasing our productivity and losing precious time. In a practice makes perfect world, this is the one thing that practice will actually work against you. The more you multitask, the more unproductive you will become.

What about when we’re not at work or supposedly relaxing?

  • While watching TV, 42% of us browse the internet, 29% talk on our phones and 26% of us text.
  • Checking e-mail or surfing the net: 67% of us will do so on a date, 45% at a movie theater.

Multitasking and students:

  • 62% of web pages students open on their laptops during class are unrelated to the subject.

Researchers are increasingly using the term ” task switching.” The term multi-tasking is actually a misnomer. People cannot do more than one task at a time. What we do is switch tasks = task switching.