Slow down multitaskers, you're moving too fast

There's growing evidence that multitasking may be hurting productivity and actually making workers worse thinkers - and businesses need to re-examine goals in this area, reports MarketWatch.

 

"It's unequivocally the case that workers who are doing multiple things at one time are doing them poorly," said Clifford Nass, director of the Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab at Stanford University. "The human brain just really isn't built to switch rapidly from one task to another. Workers who constantly multitask are hurting their ability to get work done, even when they are not multitasking. People become much more distracted, and can't manage their memory very well."

Companies that demand multitasking may be damaging productivity. "It would be a total tragedy if when we have so much potential to make the work force more intelligent, we are actually making the work force dumber," Nass said.

"Companies that are demanding that workers multitask might not only be hurting their productivity, but may be making the workforce worse thinkers."

 

Nass and other researchers found that heavy media multitaskers are "more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli," and are worse at switching between tasks, likely because of their lesser ability to ignore irrelevant information.Some companies are beginning to worry about the impact of multitasking, Nass said. "Slowly you are starting to see companies starting to change from everything having to be answered immediately," Nass said.

 

One of the most worrying effects from an employer's point of view may be the trouble that chronic multitaskers have focusing. "They are seduced by irrelevancy. They are constantly distracting themselves. They will look for distraction even when no such distraction exists," Nass said. "We are creating a culture that encourages workers to be less effective, handle information poorly and have a tougher time in social relationships. What does the workforce look like where people can't pay attention, where people can't think deeply, and where people lack emotional skills? It's a pretty scary world."

 

Although it can be tough to resist an unread email or an instant message, the reward is completing tasks at a higher quality level.

Here are tips from the experts about how to stop, or at least curb, multitasking: Strategize: Plan ahead and remove the possibility of distraction. If there are [fewer] things tempting you, it's easier to focus on the job at hand; Work on a single task for at least 20 minutes: This trains you to focus, to think deeply; Make face time sacred: "It's very, very important for the human brain to really spend some time talking to one person, face-to-face, without any technological distraction," Nass said.