Multitasking is seen by many as the ultimate way to achieve productivity. Individuals who can allegedly multitask well are often considered prized employees by companies in nearly every industry. But is multitasking all it’s cracked up to be and do you really want your team to engage? Or is there a better way to keep employees productive on the job?
Multitasking is usually defined as doing more than one task at the same time. However, it also includes switching back and forth between two or more tasks and quickly completing multiple tasks one right after the other.
Task completion -- and the ability to multitask -- is governed by the frontal lobe of the brain, where executive function is managed. There are multiple executive functioning skills that are regulated here, including memory, attention span, time management, organization, planning ahead, and switching focus from one thing to another. Individuals with frontal lobe brain injuries typically have extreme difficulty with executive functioning skills like paying attention to time passing or listing tasks in order of priority.
When a person multitasks, it takes the brain time to shift gears and determine what needs to be done to complete the new task. This occurs with each shift, even when going back and forth between the same two tasks. This time adds up, increasing the overall amount of time the individual spends working on both tasks.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking does not result in an increase in employee productivity. In fact, attempting to work on more than one task at a time is actually a hindrance to effectiveness.
An article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance suggests that productivity can be reduced by up to 40% when an individual switches between two or more tasks before completing them. This data dispels the long-held belief that if you’re able to do more than one thing at a time, you must be getting more done in the same amount of time.
The reality is that the brain’s ability to communicate with different parts of itself reduces with each additional task, slowing down the process of completion significantly. This means that although you’re doing multiple things at once, the overall time it takes to complete those tasks is greater than if you had done one at a time.
Instead of multitasking, encourage your team to focus on just one task at a time until it’s complete. Heavy multitaskers might be harder to break of their intrinsic need to balance multiple tasks.
Encourage team members you manage who tend to multitask to never attempt to complete more than two tasks at a time and to use the 20-minute rule. The 20-minute rule suggests spending at least 20 minutes on a single task before switching to another.
Multitasking is just one example of how myths about productivity on the job are rampant across industries. BWN can help you ensure your team receives quality, effective training with remote live and on-demand webinars. Browse our selection of training videos or contact us to learn more about how we can help develop a remote training program for your team.