Management Solutions Group is a hands-on consulting firm who work along side our clients to teach them the best ways to approach quality and project management processes – using their everyday work as examples to study.

You Cannot Multitask!

Thursday, January 5, 2012 ·

Effective Multitasking is an oxymoron I have been well aware of for some time. My own personal experience has shown that we do not actually multitask we just switch from task to task, Interrupting ourselves and losing productivity in the process. In time management training we call this an interruption. I have also watched project managers, quality managers, supervisors and managers try to multitask regularly and significantly reduce their own productivity.

This is why in my time & project management training workshops I instruct participants to schedule blocks of time for items that might otherwise be multitasked such as updating project schedules and action item lists as well as scheduling planning time for each day.

If you are Multitasking, you are reducing your IQ twice as much as smoking Pot:

A study, carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, found excessive use of technology reduced workers' intelligence - Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ - more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana, said researchers or about the same amount as not sleeping at all for an entire night.

How many tasks can we focus on effectively (1 or 2 maximum):

The pioneer of this research is Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He scanned volunteers’ heads while they performed different tasks and found that when there is a group of visual stimulants in front of you, only one or two things tend to activate your brain, indicating we’re really only focusing on
one or two items.

But I am working faster when I Multitask:

An American study reported in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology found that it took students far longer to solve complicated math problems when they had to switch to other tasks - in fact, they were up to 40 percent slower.

Ever wonder why you are grumpier or less satisfied when you try to multitask? (And this is over and above the items previously listed)

Studies by Gloria Mark, an ‘interruption scientist’ at the University of California, show that when people are frequently diverted from one task to another, they work faster, but produce less. After 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.

So you work faster, but get less done and are more stressed!

But I Am Experienced and Good At Multitasking (Practice makes perfect):

This is a Misnomer – Research has actually proved that people who try to multitask a lot are actually less effective and efficient at it than people who do it once in a while (Cognitive control in media multitaskers - Edited by Michael I. Posner, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, and approved July 20, 2009 (received for review April 1, 2009)

Aren’t Women supposed to be better at Multitasking than Men?

Incidentally, such research - like the bulk of scientific investigation into the brain - reveals no significant difference between the sexes. The widespread belief that women’s brains are
naturally better at multi-tasking seems to be a myth.

The evidence shows that women’s apparent multi-tasking superiority is down to the fact they are happier to try doing several things at once.

How about our Children?

Multitasking is actually bad for a child's intellectual development. This growing problem has been christened 'attention deficit trait' by psychiatrist Edward Hallowell. 'As our minds fill
with noise, the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and gradually to anything,' he argues.

Such scatterbrained attention-swinging may be causing a form of autism among children growing up immersed in technology, affecting their ability to interact with others.

This should be a call to action to help our children learn to focus on individual task completion and to help them learn to cut out distractions

So what can I or should I do?

1. Turn off your e-mail alert
2. Check your e-mail at certain times during the day
3. Schedule important tasks and block out distractions during those times
4. Communicate with your team members and coworkers that there are certain times of the day when you're not to be disrupted unless it's an emergency (You need to do this in a tactful manner)
5. If the noise around you is distracting consider using earplugs
6. Reduce the duration of meetings. Ask participants to refrain from using smart phones or e-mail during the meeting and stay focused on the meeting agenda.

Here is an additional article from the Harvard Business Journal:

How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking:


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The purpose of this blog is to write and post articles with respect to our work as consultants in the areas of quality, process and project management.

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About Me

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Grand Rapids, MI, United States
I have worked with hundreds of companies in a wide range of industries during the past eight years as president of MSG. In addition to building a successful business, I have facilitated the implementation of ISO 17025, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, APQP, CMMI & SPICE. I have also trained on Project Management, Time Management and Lean Concepts, and more recently implemented and trained on AS 9100 and AS 9006 as well as DO178B requirements.