Why Multitasking is Bad for Productivity


Micro-interruptions can double errors and reduce productivity.
Micro-interruptions can double errors and reduce productivity.

How many of us multitask our way through the day? How many of your employees do? In today’s world with all the distractions our attention is diverted with an email arriving or by a received text message. It has an effect, and not a good one. Here is why multitasking is bad for productivity.
Tiny distractions
Researchers have discovered that just tiny distractions can ruin your train of thought, requiring you to rethink what you were working on. It also doubles the number of mistakes you make. A three second distraction is all it takes. Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer reports on research where students (aka human lab rats) were tested on tasks that required close attention on the computer. Some students were allowed to concentrate uninterrupted. For the others occasionally a task would show up on the screen that required a very brief action by the student. Ghose reports “Though the distractions took only three seconds and weren’t difficult tasks, students lost their places or made mistakes twice as often after those distractions as they did without interruptions.”
The fact that twice as many errors were made by the interrupted subjects has implications for productivity in the workplace, particularly for tasks that involve concentration. I know that my personal productivity is enhanced if I eliminate distractions such as arriving email signals. This post has probably taken me twice as long to get done because I did not do that this time around. If I suffer from distractions, even very brief ones (my email just dinged and I am dying to check it) I am sure many of you suffer the same effect. And if you are doing then your employees are too. We could probably improve our productivity, even if by just a half-hour a day, if we eliminated the minor distractions. Wouldn’t management love to have an extra half-hour of productive time from everyone?
What can you do?
Here are some of the things I can do and have done to make myself more productive:

  • Shut off email notifications
  • Shut off my phone or at least the sound of the phone
  • Try to eliminate “visits” by others during the time I am concentrating. This is not always possible, but you can enlist co-workers to help.
  • Schedule time to concentrate. If it is on my calendar it is more likely to get done.

I am certain many of you have tips that help you. Have you taught these tips to your employees? Educating your managers and supervisors and employees may have the effect of increasing company productivity. Might be worth the effort.
Please leave your suggestions for what others might do in the comment section below.

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