The Hidden Problems with Multitasking

Multitasking seems like a way to get a lot done. Just like a computer, the brain can have several tabs open. While bouncing back and forth between “open tabs,” it seems like an employee is accomplishing everything. The ability to multitask is a skill that employers seek during the hiring process. Multitaskers are perceived to be intelligent, quick, and efficient.

The Problem

Although the ability to multitask is viewed as a treasured skill, multitasking is problematic. Our brains are not as flexible in juggling multiple tasks as we would like to believe. Emerging research shows that multitasking leads to errors, lower-quality output, and less productivity.

The Stats

  • Are any multitaskers efficient? The most effective multitaskers can simultaneously focus on two things at once. Although some people can multitask this way, it is extremely rare. 98% of the population do not display extraordinary multitasking abilities 1.
  • Why does multitasking weaken productivity in an average worker? The truth is, the brain is never actually multitasking (unless it is part of the 2% population that has extraordinary multitasking abilities). The average “multitasking” brain is frequently switching focus and spread thin among competing tasks. One problem is that switching focus from one task to the next causes the need to refocus. Unfortunately, refocusing takes time. As a result, multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40% 2. Moreover, it takes a multitasker 50% longer to complete a task 3.
  • What does it cost our economy due to a workforce of multitaskers? When viewing multitasking as dozens and dozens of interruptions throughout the workday, the estimated cost of these disruptions is nearly $650 billion a year 4 .
  • What are some problems with switching from one task to the next? Without genuine focus, a multitasking worker is prone to error. Multitaskers are 50% more likely to make mistakes 3. Due to these frequent mistakes, the quality of work produced by a multitasker is compromised. Also, according to research conducted at Stanford University, multitaskers are less productive than those who focus on one thing at a time 5. These researchers also found that chronic multitaskers have a lowered ability to pay attention, remember information, and switch from one task to the next as well as workers who focus on one job at a time.

The Solution

Another takeaway is the mental and emotional impact of having so many things pulling at a worker’s mind at any given moment. It is stressful!

How does a business refocus and promote a more efficient work environment?

  • Time for focus. Encourage a block of time each day that is quiet. Dedicate this “quiet time” to focusing on one thing at a time. Eliminate distractions such as noise, phones, push notifications, extra computer screens, and unnecessary conversations among coworkers.
  • Prioritize. Organize tasks and make to-do lists. Of course, the most important items are to be accomplished first.
  • Ask for help. If an employee is “in the woods,” the work environment is at its best when it is supportive. Employees should feel welcomed to ask for help and delegate as needed. No one should feel as if they have to do it all on their own.
  • If something doesn’t work, fix it. Maybe the way that tasks are assigned is not efficient. Maybe the number of assignments at once is overwhelming. This can cause unhappy, overburdened employees. If something doesn’t work, it is vital to find a solution.

How Can We Help?

If you or your team need help to take your business to the next level and find the best way to eliminate the need for multitasking, contact Theresa or visit our Contact Us page to schedule a no-cost conversation. You’ll get clarity on the issues you face and the next steps to consider – whether or not we decide to work together.


1 Pub Med

2 American Psychological Association

3 Brain Rules

4 The Cost of Paying Attention

5 Stanford News

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