Pretty bad, to my mind..
|"MULTITASKING" by akbar Simonse from Den Haag, The Netherlands|
Nevertheless, "bild der wissenschaft", a German science magazine, published a nice article about multi-tasking in April this year titled "The myth of multi-tasking" with some interesting and surprising findings ( and I added a few of my own additions here ):
- The term multi-tasking comes from computer science and describes how an operating system performs "multi-tasking" by actually switching quickly between tasks to make it look like it would perform these tasks simultaneously.
- Our brain can sense multiple sources simultaneously but can act only on one task at a time. Thus multi-tasking of a brain works the same way as in a computer operating system: through frequent switching. Switching creates extra effort, that's why I hold to my opinion: multi-tasking is bad. At the end activities take longer and much non-value-add time had to be invested to simply swap thoughts in and our from active parts of your brain. And this swapping is a source of many errors.
- When doing multi-tasking the productivity of our brain is decreased by around 40 %.
- It is not scientifically proven that women are better in multi-tasking than men, even 80% of people asked during a survey would think so and some studies seems to indicate this. It is as strenuous for women as it is for men. Keeping multiple items under control like the three kids in the living room, the pot with soup on the stove and the phone call with a friend is simply a matter of training, men could learn that as well. As long as the kids and the pot are fine and don't require any action the situation is under control, but as soon as the woman or man would have to act on multiple events multi-tasking would be required for the price of reduced productivity and stress. The best example I always like to mention: watch people trying to drive a car and having a phone call at the same time and you know what is meant here.
- There are people who actually like that frequent switching and short periods of time to focus on one activity. These are typically people who can not focus on one thing for a longer period of time.
- Companies should try everything to avoid multi-tasking for their work force. This would reduce the rate of errors, stress and the risk of employees to become sick ( of that or because of that ).
- One hint here: check your e-mails only every two hours.
Anyway, during a presentation I followed recently about Agile Planning and Estimating in projects I learned that multi-tasking can help to actually increase productivity. How that ? A study published by K. Clark and S. Wheelwright in “Managing New Product and Process Development: Text and Cases, The Free Press, 1993” shows that productivity actually improves when working on two concurrent tasks vs. single tasking from let’s say 70 to 80 %, then starts degrading to 60 % with three concurrent tasks, less than 50 % with four concurrent tasks … and so on. How does this work ?
Imagine the following scenario ( which is based on a real experience I just made today ): Let’s assume I am assigned 70 % of my time to my current project. Since I am depending on some key people to get me some input for me to continue my software development work and since those people are quiet busy and not available for me all the time I need to plan ahead before talking to them, thus if I have questions today I might get a slot in their calendar tomorrow after lunch. This means some delay for me and potential non-productive time for the particular project I am working on. The solution: work on something different until I get my necessary input to continue working on my current project. This “something different” could be a second project, my travel expense report or a blog post I am writing – or whatever else.
The bottom line is: working on two concurrent tasks might actually increase your productivity, since you find a smarter way to use idle time occurring in one project or task. For two concurrent tasks productivity is increasing. Starting with three or more concurrent tasks productivity most probably will drop. The overhead to switch between three or more tasks or projects now starts eating up the productivity you gain by better using idle time occurring in one particular task.
Like with anything else in life: multi-tasking might be something good, if one does not overdo it.