The myth of multi-tasking suggests that individuals who can multi-task are more productive and therefore more valuable than people who concentrate on completing one task at a time.
A 2001 University of Michigan study showed that people who multi-task are 20% to 40% less productive than a person who is not distracted from a task. This study proved that when a person divides his/her attention frequently, there is a loss on all tasks.
In August of 2009, researchers at Stanford University confirmed again that multi-tasking doesn’t work. In fact, they tried to prove the theory that multi-taskers were much more in control of information, but found the opposite to be true.
In the Stanford study, multi-taskers were described as “suckers for irrelevancy” because “everything distracts them.”
On 1/12/12, the TV channel, CNBC, aired a 1-hour special on multi-tasking and the numerous distractions that exist in our internet-age. The show determined that multi- tasking is nothing more than frequent task shifting as it is impossible to fully concentrate on more than one task at a time.
HR POINTER: When companies say that they want employees who can multi-task, what they really mean is that they want people who can handle frequent interruptions and still get all the work done accurately and on-time.
Unfortunately, some jobs, such as commodities traders, are structured in a way that frequent interruptions cannot be avoided. For such positions, companies need to interview very carefully as many people do not have the temperament or the organizational skills to survive in this type of role.
Additionally, to improve the productivity and safety of all workers, management needs to establish and enforce work rules that establish “block times” to help employees structure their work and avoid distractions.
Without such work rules or management guidance, employee productivity will decline due to the frequency of checking emails, responding to instant messages, checking voicemails, viewing Tweets, and other such attention stealing distractions that rob productivity.
At a time when many employees feel the added workload pressure of downsized companies, managers need to be aggressive in structuring the workday to prevent business and non-business distractions from adding to employee stress.