Do you believe multitasking is a valuable team skill that benefits productivity in the workplace? If you do, you're not alone; however, research shows this thinking is flawed.
One Task at a Time: The Key to Supercharging Team Performance
Most of us couldn't imagine life without multitasking, especially regarding workplace productivity. I will demonstrate how removing multitasking will increase your team's overall productivity.
In the fast-paced world of modern workplaces, the allure of multitasking often seems irresistible. It's become a badge of honour, a symbol of productivity and efficiency. Yet, beneath the surface, there lies a hidden truth: Multitasking, far from being a superpower, is, in fact, a saboteur of team success. While multitasking seems harmless, it is a skill that has detrimental effects on teamwork, but the good news is there is a path to reclaiming focus, productivity, and true success for your team.
Did You Know That Multitasking Hurts Our Brain?
Numerous studies indicate that multitasking negatively affects our brains. When our brain multitasks, also known as "task switching," it uses more mental energy than it takes to keep our focus on what we are doing.
Substantial research on multitasking skills in computer software development concluded that the more multitasking practised, the less productivity occurs. Basically, if you switch back and forth between two projects, you waste 20% of your time, and as you add in projects, the loss of time increases. If you are working on five tasks simultaneously, the loss of time from switching back and forth is an astonishing 75%. (Source)
Furthermore, as reported by the American Psychological Association, according to David Meyer, Ph.D., “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.”
Is This Skill The Ultimate Timewaster?
Do you want your team to practice a skill that wastes time? Multitasking is a skill that divides our focus, exhausting us and places a great deal of stress on our entire body, including our minds. Our lives become more stressful when we concentrate on more than one thing at a time. When we focus on numerous things at once, we're not mindful of what's happening now, and we miss many important details surrounding us.
Do Your Employees Think Multitasking Is An Essential Job Component?
Recently, while facilitating a leadership workshop, I heard from numerous participants that multitasking was one of their most significant work challenges. They shared how stressful and unproductive they found their jobs due to constant multitasking. When I asked if any shared this concern with their managers, several replied that multitasking was a job skill imposed by management.
How You Can Boost Productivity By Eliminating Multitasking Within The Workplace:
Encourage your team to avoid multitasking within the workplace. It's natural to become distracted; the key is to train your brain to work on one task at a time when possible. When your thoughts wander, bring them back to the task at hand to enhance skill development in the workplace. Eliminating multitasking in the workplace can significantly boost productivity and efficiency. Here are numerous steps to help you achieve this:
- Start by identifying and prioritizing tasks. Use tools like to-do lists, project management software, or the Eisenhower Matrix to determine what needs your immediate attention.
- Define clear, specific goals for each task or project. Having a well-defined objective makes it easier to focus on a single task at a time.
- Allocate specific time blocks for different tasks or types of work. During these blocks, focus solely on the designated task and avoid switching to other activities.
- Create a distraction-free workspace. Silence notifications, close unnecessary tabs or apps, and inform colleagues when you need uninterrupted work time.
- Train yourself and your team single-task; work on one task at a time. Encourage the practice of completing one task before moving on to the next.
- Batch similar tasks by grouping similar jobs and addressing them during the same time block. This skill minimizes context-switching and allows for more efficient work.
- Break work into 25-minute focused intervals (Pomodoros) with short breaks in between. This method enhances concentration and helps combat multitasking.
- Delegate tasks that others can handle, allowing team members to specialize and focus on their strengths. Dedicate certain days or times to deep work without meetings, allowing employees to concentrate on their tasks without interruptions.
- Foster open communication within your team. Encourage asking for help rather than juggling tasks if someone needs assistance or clarification.
- Avoid overloading your team with unrealistic deadlines. Adequate time allocation for each task reduces the urge to multitask out of necessity.
- Educate your team on the adverse effects of multitasking and the benefits of single-tasking. Offer training on time management and productivity techniques.
- Monitor and measure individual and team productivity. Use data to identify areas where multitasking is still challenging and address them.
- Acknowledge and celebrate achievements as the team completes tasks without multitasking. Positive reinforcement can motivate your team to continue this practice.
- As a leader, model single-tasking behaviour; your team is more likely to follow suit when they see you prioritize focus and concentration.
- Continuously assess and refine your productivity strategies. What works for your team may evolve, so stay adaptable.
This long list of strategies will go a long way to eliminate multitasking and increase productivity and efficiency.
Our quality of life and productivity significantly increase when we reduce multitasking and increase single-tasking. By eliminating multitasking and promoting a culture of single-tasking and focus, you can help your team achieve higher productivity, reduce stress, and deliver higher-quality work. If you want to learn more about this for your team, please check out our consulting and coaching opportunities and emotional intelligence training.
This article was originally published on November 3, 2018, and has been updated (September 2023).
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