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
On 1/12/12, 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 and
receptionists, 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.