Multitasking: A Crime Against Productivity

Masterplan Team

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Multitasking might make us appear productive, but in reality, it diminishes our efficiency and quality. Learn why our brains aren't wired to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, and discover how you can boost your productivity by tackling one task at a time.

We're all familiar with the scenario: in the hectic work environment, we juggle between emails, meetings, and various projects, always under the (mis)belief that this helps us achieve more. But what if multitasking isn't a turbocharger, but rather a roadblock to your productivity? In reality, it looks like this:

The Science Behind Multitasking

Our brains are remarkable, but they have their limits. When it comes to focusing on complex cognitive tasks, multitasking doesn't provide a solution.

Gerald Weinberg, a renowned management thinker, discovered that our productivity decreases as we take on more tasks simultaneously.

When we work on a single task, we achieve 85% of our maximum productivity. However, once we distribute our cognitive resources across two tasks, our productivity drops to 80%.

Wait a moment, only a 5% difference? Indeed.

As long as you're dealing with just two tasks, the negative effect of multitasking remains manageable. However, once you start simultaneously handling three, four, or five tasks, your productivity dramatically declines.

The reason behind this is the so-called "Context Switches," where our brains must switch between different tasks. These switches can lead to errors, quality loss, and delays as the brain adjusts to the new demands of each task.

The Efficiency Myth

The belief that we'll finish faster by starting on multiple tasks early is a fallacy.

The experiment clearly shows: we actually waste more time when we switch between tasks. And even if there's no productivity loss, we don't finish tasks any faster.

Constant multitasking can even lead to a long-term impairment of your concentration. When your brain gets overly trained to swiftly shift between tasks, it "forgets" how to focus on a single task. The result: solving complex problems and delivering high-quality work becomes more challenging.

Multitasking Experiment

Let's conduct a simple experiment to debunk the multitasking myth. Grab paper, a pen, and open the stopwatch app on your smartphone.

Part 1:

Imagine you're faced with three different customer requests:

  • Customer 1 wants numbers 1 to 15 listed in ascending order.
  • Customer 2 wants letters from A to O listed. 
  • Customer 3 wants Roman numerals from I to XV listed in ascending order.

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In the first run-through, you'll attempt to tackle all three requests simultaneously, row by row, from left to right (1, A, I; 2, B, II; 3, C, III …). Record the time it takes to process all three requests.

Part 2:

In the second run-through, the requests remain the same, but you'll process one task at a time, column by column, from top to bottom (1, 2, 3 …; A, B, C …; I, II, III …). Record the time again.

Result

Comparing the two run-throughs, you'll likely notice: switching back and forth between tasks takes time. Chaotic multitasking (1st run) requires more time than the structured approach (2nd run). But why is that?

Focus as the Key to Productivity

The takeaway is: focus on one task at a time.

This doesn't mean you can't do multiple things within a timeframe, but rather that you should consciously set yourself up to complete one task before moving to the next.

By the way, the ability to focus on one thing and see it through to completion is called "single-tasking." In a world where constant distractions and demands are the norm, this skill has become incredibly valuable.

Conclusion

While technology has propelled us in many aspects of life, it has also led to constant connectivity and distraction. Emails, social media, and constant notifications can make it hard to concentrate on a task. Therefore, it's crucial to carve out time blocks for focused work and minimize distractions during those periods.

Multitasking might initially seem like an efficiency booster, but in reality, it diminishes our productivity and quality.

Instead of getting lost in a whirlwind of activities, it's better to focus on what truly matters and tackle tasks one by one. Your productivity will thank you!

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Masterplan Team

Our team consists of learning experts who will always provide you with the latest trends, fresh perspectives and helpful inspiration for successful learning in your company.
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