The word “Multitasking” seems to communicate being able to do multiple things at once. Perhaps a better definition would be “Juggling several things at once, taking turns giving attention to one thing after another, and managing transitions.” Realty sometimes demands this kind of rotation or splitting of awareness, as anyone who is responsible for children can attest. However, at work, organizations pay a big price when multi-tasking is used and worse if it is common and expected!
Eli Goldratt, in his book Critical Chain, points out the damage multi-tasking does to project durations. Important projects are delayed while less important projects are worked on perhaps because of the need to show progress at the next project review. Goldratt strongly advocates that organizations set clear priorities with one most important project at a time. Then that is the project that is always worked upon first, given an opportunity to do so. Every department knows the priority of each project and works accordingly. The #1 project is NEVER to be delayed while resources are applied to another. Businesses following Goldratt’s model, which includes not multi-tasking and a special project buffering strategy, routinely cut project durations more than 50%!
We have an article on the Member part of our website entitled Project Management Tip #1. (Become a member of our website with your email to access this article.) The article demonstrates mathematically that using six identical resources (i.e. people) on one project and avoiding spreading their efforts across six projects, all else being equal, earns an average 42% improvement in project durations for those six projects.
An individual focusing on one project at a time, will avoid time wasted putting down one project and picking up another. Mental effort is reduced and errors become far less likely.
Here is more information about what other critics of multitasking have to say:
Unlimited Memory by Grandmaster Kevin Horsley:
“Multi-tasking is a myth”; “Stop multitasking”; “Our brain can … only focus on one thing at a time”; “When you (think) you are multi-tasking you are actually switching between tasks”;
“We (humans) cannot do more than one thing at a time. Sharpen your intellect by returning to the habit of doing one thing at a time.”; “Rediscover the value of sequential tasking, instead of settling for the quality dilution associated with simultaneous tasking.”
“Exceptional work is always associated with periods of deep concentration.”; “Nothing excellent comes from scattered effort.” “We are training our brains to an attention deficit.”
Marilee Springer – Neuroscience consultant:
“Multitasking is known to slow people down by 50% and add 50% more mistakes.”