Program Management Blog

September 7, 2009

Multi-tasking, not productive, but reductive.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Milt @ 10:06 PM

For many years I have been spewing that multitasking does not work and that when attending meetings and conference calls, the proper behavior is to drop all other work and dedicate yourself to the event at hand. And every time I do this at a presentation, some well-to-do tells me I don’t get it and that multi-tasking is essential to today’s work. In other words – Dave you are stupid????

What really drives my opinion was the lost time involved with multi-tasking. It is a selfish habit that basically tells your co-workers their time is not important. They often can’t answer questions, or ask that the question be repeated. Then they proudly state that they were busy multi-tasking and not paying attention. So collective hours are lost, so that individual can read an email??????

Well, studies are now showing that multi-tasking doesn’t work. Not only does it waste other people’s time, multi-taskers in and of themselves are less productive, recall less information, and is not a skill – but a liability.

The first study is from a Stanford University study and is detailed at: . This one demonstrates that multi-taskers are easily distracted, and suggest that even though a person may be multi-tasking, it doesn’t mean the other task is necessary or important.

A second study in The New Atlantis ( suggests the cost to multi-tasking in productivity exceeds a billion dollars a year.

Finally, many jurisdictions are starting to enact laws prohibiting multi-tasking in the car. You can’t text and drive, you can’t cell phone and drive, and you most likely can’t participate in a web meeting and drive (no matter how cool the app!).

So how do we handle this when the guilty parties think they are not only doing good, but superior, work to their peers and the non-multi-taskers are actually slackers? First is calling them out on it. When sending a meeting invite add a request that nobody multi-tasks. All our time is valuable and we would hate to waste it by re-explaining something because you were multitasking.

Second, send a note after a meeting to them, and their boss, explaining the disappointment that they are not able to concentrate on your project. Ask what activity is more important and what you as a project manager have to do so they can concentrate on the tasks in your project.

Finally, have them repeat something that was said, especially if it involves a task they are responsible for, if they know they are subject to public scrutiny, they may pay more attention.

To me the bottom line is simple; I used to think I could multitask with the best of them, but found out I was fooling myself. I could do 3 things that would take 10 minutes each for a total of 30 minutes, or I could multi-task and do them in 20 minutes and thus more productive. However, this did not account for having to perhaps rework one of the tasks, or the opportunity cost of not paying full attention to one tasks, or worst of all, having to revisit something a decision made by the team that sought you input, but you weren’t paying attention so it was agreed to.

So in response to the people who say I don’t get it, you’re right. I don’t get why you spend time trying to do more than one thing at a time and risk reducing the quality of your work and your reputation. And I would also challenge that a lot of the multi-tasks are work that really didn’t need to be done!!!!


Dave Davis, PMP


1 Comment »

  1. i agree with you 100%. Multitasking can be selfish and whatever happened to good ol’ monotasking? That’s the way I work best.

    Comment by bookjunkie — May 15, 2010 @ 10:23 AM

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