The Cost of Multi-Tasking

Posted on December 22, 2009 by

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If your goal is to maximize productivity, then multi-tasking could actually be a culprit. Although some simple tasks may be performed simultaneously, such as carrying on an idle conversation while washing dishes after dinner, without noticeably detrimental effects, the complex multi-tasking and frequent task-switching that we subject our minds to may actually decrease efficiency overall. An American Psychological Association article states that “multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time. (http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx).”

On an individual level, take note of how many tasks you’re trying to accomplish simultaneously and how often you switch tasks. Are you working on writing a report but quickly switching to your email every time you’re notified of a new message in your inbox? Are you trying to calculate some figures but your cell phone keeps ringing? It may help your productivity if you can reduce any unnecessary task-switching or find a block of time in a place free of distractions to focus fully on your task.

This research is something to consider for those working on improving the efficiencies of a project team in order to keep the schedule on track or of a processes, such as through applying Lean Six Sigma methodology. A point in the process which requires excess multi-tasking and task-switching may be a good candidate for improvement in order to increase efficiency.