The local weekly in our area has a piece on multitasking by a local psychiatrist and author, Dr. Blaise Aguirre, The myth of multitasking. The article centers around helping kids do better in school, but he also summarizes a lot of the recent research on the topic in less than a thousand words. I particularly like this quote:
Worse, we waste time when we multitask as it takes four times longer to do two tasks effectively than it takes to do each one individually.
While there is no additional attribution (it's a newspaper after all), this is in line with my observations. And how often are people doing only two things at a time? Note that this is talking about tasks that require attention and focus, not the more automatic tasks that can operate in the background. People often use the term "task switching" to be clearer about which variety of multitasking is being discussed.
Look at organizations where people are dependent upon one another to get things done - just about every organization. Working in a multitasking (or task-switching) mode makes it look like everyone is busy, but that isn't what people need. People need to FINISH things. Multitasking in this way ensures lots of stuff is happening, but it doesn't get things DONE.
The take away? Please learn how to say, "No" to attention-sinks from yourself and to your colleagues. Finish what you've started, and then move to the next thing. You will be surprised.
Just don't ask me how long it took for me to get everything in place to write this simple blog entry.
[Photo: "Myth" by liquidnight]