The high cost of multitasking on productivity

The high cost of multitasking is time and money

Switching between attention-rich tasks costs us time and money. This is particularly true when we are moving between two complex tasks. Switching tasks midstream takes a toll on our productivity. Time management with the brain in mind requires us to use our attention and energy as efficiently as possible.  To avoid wasting time and money, keep the following in mind:

  • Research shows that the high cost of multitasking is a reduction in our productivity by almost 40%.
  • Switching from one task to another (e.g. email to a phone call) can make it more difficult to tune out distractions and slows down our progress.
  • It takes time when switching to disengage from one task and engage with the new task.
  • We tend to be slower when we switch tasks than when we focus on one task for a block of time (e.g. switching between mail and phone calls vs handling all our mail in one time block)

The high cost of multitasking is time and moneyPsychologists have studied the high cost of multitasking, and what happens to our mental processes (cognition) when we try to perform more than one complex task at a time. They found that our brains are not designed for complex multitasking. We can do two or more automated tasks like walking and talking or typing and listening to music at the same time, but when we are learning new tasks (e.g. learning to drive) we cannot really do more than one thing at a time.

The high cost of multitasking is that when we talk on the phone while checking email or talk on our cell phones while driving, we are unable to give either task sufficient energy or focus and we are more likely to make mistakes. If you are in the middle of an email and the phone rings, how long does it take you to get back into the email when you have finished the call?

The cost of multitasking is that most of us it take between one and two minutes to get back into the flow of the work reducing our effectiveness each time we get interrupted.

To avoid the high cost of multitasking the best way to increase our productivity is to create blocks of time where we can focus on one task at a time. Spend a 20-30 minutes answering emails and then spend another block of time making or returning calls or meeting with clients/colleagues. The research shows we are far more efficient when we become absorbed in a specific task and don’t try switch between thoughts and tasks.

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Richard Riche

Change Communication and Employee Engagement specialist at One Clear Message Consulting
Richard specialises in helping you build real human communication skills. Employee Engagement / Experience, Emotional Intelligence skills, building high performance teams and a great place you want to work. TED style speaking and presentation skills. Training, consulting and coaching.
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