Multitasking Is a Productivity Suck. Here’s How to Slow It Down

Article main image
Oct 21, 2016
This article is part of a series called Higher Performance Workforce.

Checking off your to-do list gives you a huge sense of accomplishment. So, it’s important for you to get as many tasks done in one day as possible. You’re on a sales call, writing an order, and drafting an email to a new client simultaneously.

This type of multitasking may be giving you a false sense of results. Cognitive Control In Media Multitaskers, a July 2009 study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found those who frequently media multitask have a reduced ability to switch from task to task.

Employees are habitually multitasking. It’s these “I can do it all” thinkers that employers are most attracted to. But are these overachieving multitaskers inadvertently hurting themselves and the bottom line?

See the related article, Faster, Cheaper Is Taking a Toll On Your Workforce

Is multitasking hurting your employees?

As a leader, you’re proud of the large workload your team can tackle in a small amount of time, but the pitfalls of multitasking may outweigh the quick turnaround. In the American Psychological Association’s March 2006 study, Multitasking: Switching Costs, researchers found those who multitask have a 40% drop in productivity. This means while employees are pushing hard to complete multiple tasks at once, in order to get ahead, their effort is actually counterproductive.

Along with a drop in employee productivity, organizations may want to beware of the multitasking money monster. In Realization’s, The Effects Of Multitasking On Organizations, researchers found companies are losing $450 billion dollars annually due to multitasking productivity loss. This excruciatingly high number alone should be reason enough for employers to consider helping employees slow down on multitasking.

Put the brakes on multitasking

There are many reasons employees multitask. Constant access to emails, phone calls, social media, and calendar alerts will make slowing multitasking a difficult feat. But for the sake of your employees and your company, it’s worth taking time to control the level of multitasking. And there are a number of things employers can do to slow down the multitasking collisions:

Yield to timelines: Employees who have many projects and clients moving at once may have difficulty organizing priorities. This places employees at a five road intersection, and knowing they need to go down each one at some point is overwhelming. So, they end up resorting to multitasking by stretching to be in all five places at once. Digging into multiple tasks reduces their overall productivity and quality rates of each project.

Sit down in a one-on-one meeting with employees to define goal expectations. After you’ve laid out deadlines, ask if they feel it’s a reasonable timeline. Place buffers in the schedule for unexpected roadblocks, and detours to prevent the need for multitasking. Employees who can clearly see deadlines up ahead will be able to better schedule their time, preventing the multitask pile-up from happening.

Create road maps: Multitasking can sometimes be a sign of disorganization. Employees find it hard to navigate among their multiple tasks, and end up wasting time hopping from one to the other. This creates a false sense of productivity because while each task is being touched, most aren’t successfully completed.

Present employees with organized task lists to create a functioning order throughout the week. It’s important to be cautious of becoming a micro-manager, so start by giving brief descriptions of what needs to be accomplished by the end of the week. Employees can follow this task manager as a guideline, but can continue to work on each task when they’re most productive.

Encourage rest stops: Go, go, go. That’s exactly what your quality team players are thinking throughout the workday. Many of these employees feel unproductive, or like bad workers if they take a break here and there.

Walking away from work a few times a day — yes, even leaving behind your smartphone — can enhance productivity and creativity during the rest of the day. Let your team know the importance and validity you place on stepping away from work by scheduling a specific amount of time for breaks each day. Setting aside this time will encourage your team to take a moment to recharge.

How do you help prevent employees from multitasking? Let us know!

This article is part of a series called Higher Performance Workforce.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!