The death of multitasking

May 25, 2012 at 6:07 am Leave a comment

This sounds like the answer to many workers’ prayers. Reduce the number of projects a team is working on, prepare adequately for each project, and assign a priority rating to each one so workers can use it as a guide when deciding what work to finish first. Those are recommendations from a Harvard Business Review blog by Sanjeev Gupta.

He argues that multitasking is not only costing individuals a 25 percent loss in productivity, but organizations may be losing as much as 75 percent efficiency when the pitfalls of multitasking are multiplied by the number of employees affected. Because of that fact, he says that businesses should have companywide control of how much multitasking goes on, rather than individuals or managers.

I applaud the ideas in this blog. I lean toward the habit of multitasking, and it’s true that in the long run, it hampers productivity rather than helping it. Gupta’s recommendations for companies to use structure and planning as ways to limit multitasking are spot on. But individuals and managers still have to buy into the discipline of resisting distractions. No matter how many processes and rules organizations set to discourage multitasking, there are people who have made it a way of life. Focusing on one task at a time is counter to their ingrained work habits.

How can organizations break the multitasking habit?

First, explain how multitasking is hurting the business. There are links to recent research on that point in Gupta’s article.

Second, make sure managers can recognize multitasking. They have seen it for so many years or maybe even have a strong habit of multitasking themselves. They are unlikely to the lead the movement away from something that they don’t recognize as a problem.

Third, reward high-quality work. Make quality and focus two areas that candidates are evaluated on. Highlight projects that have met quality goals in the company newsletter or bulletin board.

What are your experiences with multitasking? Are the recommendations above realistic, or is it impossible to manage employees to that degree?

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Entry filed under: Employee Engagement, HR Management, Management, Time management, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , .

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