The myth of multitasking

Is multitasking killing your organization’s productiveness?

As a CEO, I do know that one of one of the best issues to come back out of the previous yr is the accelerated acceptance of a hybrid work mannequin. Workers have performed a exceptional job balancing the everyday distractions of work communications from Slack, electronic mail, and cellphone, together with these from pets, children, roommates, neighbors, and in some instances even dad and mom.

However as a psychologist, I do know that whether or not corporations embrace a totally distant, hybrid, or in-office mannequin going ahead, it’s time to reckon with the decades-old drawback of multitasking. The American Psychological Association has reported that even temporary psychological blocks created by shifting between duties can price as a lot as 40% in productiveness.

Why is the associated fee of multitasking so excessive? As a result of our brains have been by no means meant to multitask within the first place.

“Multitasking” as an idea has been round for the reason that Sixties, when it was first utilized by IBM to debate laptop functionalities. It rapidly entered the mainstream, as a result of folks favored the concept of having the ability to optimize how they spent their time. For those who have been finishing a number of issues directly, then certainly you’ll be a extra productive worker, a greater father or mother, or a extra completed hobbyist.

It was a gorgeous premise, however the actuality fell flat. Psychologists started to suspect that multitasking wasn’t truly the panacea we handled it as, and the concept was lastly debunked in 2001, when MRI imagery confirmed that what we predict of as multitasking is definitely our brains switching between completely different duties in a short time. We will’t deal with multiple activity directly, however we will do that task-switching as a result of of our “government system,” an element of the frontal lobes that helps us course of stimuli and plan for future behaviors.

However most individuals nonetheless consider within the myth of multitasking. And that is an costly myth to consider in.

If you’ll want to do two issues directly—for example, cook dinner dinner and watch a toddler—your government system will direct your mind to modify between these duties quickly, in order that it feels such as you’re doing each on the similar time. But anybody who’s tried this may also admit that there’s a better chance of dinner getting burned, as a result of the system isn’t excellent. Our brains by no means developed to be actually capable of deal with multiple factor at a time, so once we strive, we run up towards our personal limitations.

It’s in employers’ greatest pursuits to restrict multitasking as a lot as doable, and the normal workplace setting is usually designed with that in thoughts (you possibly can’t multitask a lot in a cubicle). However house places of work don’t include this tidy separation of work and life, making it a lot simpler for workers to fall into the lure of multitasking.

You may be questioning, “Okay, so what do I do?” I like to recommend taking a superb exhausting take a look at your workers’ technological environments and ensuring the know-how they’re utilizing isn’t undermining productiveness.

We need to empower workers with options that make them extra productive and efficient. However too many particular person items of know-how can pressure employees to swim via huge oceans of info to seek out the few items which might be truly invaluable, and that effort comes at a value. First, there’s the associated fee of the know-how itself. Second, there’s the associated fee of time and focus as workers swap between numerous platforms and home windows.

So let’s check out what these workers try to achieve from all that info. Often, it’s details about the subsequent greatest motion to take. What’s going to make them extra productive? Impress their boss? Result in extra income sooner, and ideally get them a elevate whereas they’re at it?

Your staff doesn’t need extra knowledge. They need steerage and suggestions on what actions will drive worth. In different phrases, they want that ocean of info to be a lake (and even higher, a puddle) that’s solely stuffed with knowledge that actually matter.

To make it straightforward for workers to know their subsequent greatest motion, we have to shift away from massive knowledge. Massive knowledge has been a buzzword for years now, and corporations are accumulating extra knowledge on clients, workers, and processes than ever earlier than. However the energy lies in small knowledge: insights that may be simply understood and acted upon.

For instance, when you have know-how that data and transcribes each name folks at your organization make, then you may have massive knowledge (and a heck of a job for the one that must wade via all these calls). However when you have know-how that makes use of knowledge to assist corporations focus workers, then you may have small knowledge. And that small knowledge makes your workers higher at their jobs, as a result of they don’t have to waste any time determining what to do subsequent.

Small knowledge depends on synthetic intelligence to work properly. It will possibly multitask for us by gathering giant quantities of info, determining the subsequent greatest actions an worker ought to take to be productive and get outcomes, and letting them know the knowledge within the actual second they want it to do their jobs higher. It will possibly additionally assist take away the psychological load from workers and restrict context-switching.

Workers get to reap the advantages of multitasking, with out having to pay the psychological price of doing it themselves. Every part works extra easily if we ingest knowledge at a human scale.

As a result of we’re not computer systems. We’re folks. And once we play to each our human and technological strengths, everyone wins.


Howard Brown is the CEO of ringDNA, a income acceleration platform that helps companies scale development via AI.