Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Multitasking - a short cut to poor performance?

Post 567 - Is the power of multitasking a myth? Is multitasking a short cut to poor performance and disappointing results? It seems likely.

In an article by Joeann Fossland, “Multitasking: Smart or Dumb?” published
on line in, a few revealing studies are presented that
clearly indicate multitasking could be the way to serious problems. For
example, in a study by Carnegie Mellon University subjects were asked to
listen to sentences while comparing two rotating objects. This research
found the resources available for the brain to pay attention visually
dropped 29 percent and the listening brain activation dropped by 53 percent.
Another study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology revealed that the
more complicated the tasks, the more time was lost.

Fossland reports that according to David Meyer, a psychology professor
(University of Michigan), “Intense multitasking can induce a stress
response, an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form
new memory.”

In a nutshell, Fossland concludes, “multitasking is actually inefficient and
will, in the end” waste time, adversely impact quality of results, and
undermine employee well being.

One can argue that multitasking is an unavoidable consequence of the
heightened level of competition. But this raises the question of whether or
not forcing employees to engage in multitasking is the right approach to
meeting competition.

Additionally, we should recognize that there is an enormous range of degrees
of multitasking. And that you need to look at what is meant by multitasking
in a given situation. Context is critical. That said, multitasking still
should not be assumed to be working in the best interests of the
organization. Research and experience suggest it may very well be an
appealing road to follow to unexpectedly costly outcomes.

Those who have some say in organization planning, staffing or work
design, should take stock of the research findings. It seems that as
organizations try to streamline and become ever leaner, they are walking out
further and further on thin ice.

For much of the work in organizations, research evidence, hands-on
experience and common sense shows that focusing on one thing at a time
remains the way to get the most out of people, as well as giving them the best
opportunity to enjoy their work and to give their all.

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