Clarke Ching points to yet more evidence that multitasking is dumb:
By now, we all know that switching between tasks - multitasking - makes each task take longer and is PURE EVIL.
Here's an article that talks about the hidden costs of switching to our personal efficiency - they say that multitasking makes us stupid.
A growing body of scientific research shows that one of jugglers' favourite time-saving techniques, multitasking, can actually make you less efficient and, well, stupider. Trying to do two or three things at once or in quick succession can take longer overall than doing them one at a time, and may leave you with reduced brainpower to perform each task.
Yet we're clearly engaged in a long-term trend toward doing more of it. Some 45 percent of U.S. workers feel they are asked or expected to work on too many tasks at once, says a study of 1,003 employees by the Families and Work Institute in New York.
["Multitasking makes you stupid, studies say", By Sue Shellenbarger, The Wall Street Journal]
Note: Use this link at CareerJournal because the others require registration. Also note that the article appears to be from February 2003.
But what about those people who still say that they have to multitask to survive? It just is not possible to do many things at once and do them all well. Of course, you are involved in multiple things, but the most sensible approach is to take care of each responsibility individually. Don't jump from item to item to item. Complete your work and hand off to the next person in the chain of responsibility. Not that this is easy.
Johanna Rothman (always a good project management read) follows up with more advice in Making the Problems of Multitasking Real. She also has created a simulation to help people walk through the decision process:
Deciding what to do --and what not to do -- is not simple. ... If you're faced with multitasking demands, stop for a few seconds. What's the most strategically important work? Do that first. If you have three or seventeen things you think are all at the same importance and you can't rank them, ask your boss. You'll find that a bunch of the things you think you're supposed to do may not even need to be done. Just don't think you can do them all at the same time, because you can't.
And in searching for a non-registration version of the Shellenbarger article, I stumbled upon The Xtreme Agent who Multitasks No More:
Surprised? Bet you would have guessed that the Xtreme Agent was expert at doing a million tasks at once. You're wrong! By focusing on one task at a time - not multiple tasks - the Xtreme Agent produces a higher quantity and quality of work!
What the Xtreme Agent knows is that multitasking makes you stupid and forgetful. No joke!