Magazine article HRMagazine

Dropping the Ball

Magazine article HRMagazine

Dropping the Ball

Article excerpt

Does multi-tasking actually make us less productive?

English actress Helena Bonham Carter once said, "Multi-tasking? I can't even do two things at once. I can't even do one thing at once." She may have been joking, but she was closer to the truth than she realized.

Cutting-edge research published in January by University of Utah psychology professor David L. Strayer and his co-authors has revealed that few people can multi-task well. The study, Who Multi-Tasks and Why? Multi-Tasking Ability, Perceived Multi-Tasking Ability, Impulsivity, and Sensation Seeking, tested 310 college students on two simultaneous tasks: memorization and math computation. Participants also evaluated their multi-tasking abilities. The results? Seventy percent of participants said they were above average at multi-tasking, a statistical impossibility. Notably, the 25 percent of participants who rated themselves the least likely to multi-task were the best multi-taskers.

Below, Strayer shares his insights.

What is multi-tasking?

Multi-tasking is trying to do two separate tasks at the same time, such as reading and listening to music or driving and talking on a cellphone. People multi-task to alleviate boredom or gain stimulation. Sensationseeking individuals are drawn to multi-tasking.

Why do people do it?

Multi-tasking is deceptive and alluring because it seems as if you can get more done in the same amount of time. But trying to juggle more than one thing at the same time, say Task A and Task B, results in the quality of both of those products being diminished, and it takes longer to complete Task A and B concurrently than it would have taken if you had done Task A and then Task B consecutively.

What is the risk of multi-tasking?

In the workplace, sometimes you may multi-task out of necessity, but usually the quality of the work suffers. Multi-tasking-or too much switching between tasks-exacts a cost.

Most of the time when people multitask, they are not moving the business agenda ahead; they are updating their Facebook pages or checking baseball scores. It is not relevant to the company's bottom line. When people put away their phones-the source of a lot of multitasking behavior-studies show a huge increase in creativity scores.

Often, multi-tasking results in missing a step in a sequence or forgetting something. For instance, if you interrupt a nurse who is programming an infusion pump and she forgets where she is in the sequence, she may deliver the wrong amount of medication to a patient. …

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