Over the past few months, we’ve been releasing our six part mini-series on how to derail a project and looking at every aspect of the project development process. After covering failures of communication, lack of clarity, and expectation management, this month we’re focusing on the much-misunderstood concept of multitasking
Are you good at multitasking? Most of us think so, especially after we’ve had several cups of coffee. Multitasking certainly makes us feel more productive, as we’re buzzing about tackling multiple projects all at once.
However, research study after research study has shown that multitasking isn’t a real phenomenon. Instead, what happens when we think we’re multitasking is that the human brain very quickly shifts attention between multiple tasks—the person’s attention isn’t split but moves back and forth from task to task. In the vast majority of cases, this results in performance degradation for all tasks being attempted. Meaning, the person would have been better off completing one task, and only then moving on to the next one.
These findings have numerous implications for project management, but the main one is this: when project managers and their staff try to multitask, things tend to get overlooked, done incorrectly, or, in the best case scenario, completed more slowly than they would have been completed had the person focused on one thing at a time.
It has been estimated that $650 billion a year is wasted in US businesses due to multitasking.
Thankfully, there are things you can do as a project manager to control multitasking and get your team working more efficiently.
3 Ways to Decrease Multitasking and Improve Productivity
- Manage your and your staff’s workloads. When you and your team are overworked, you’ll be more likely to multitask and try to finish things on a tight deadline, leading to missed expectations and errors that could derail or delay the project and sour your working relationship with the client.
- Teach good working habits. Give your staff the time and direction to work on one thing at a time and only then move on to the next thing. Remember, as a project manager, it’s your job to set priorities and to be the gatekeeper that preserves your staff’s sanity as other demands on their time are being made by clients and other people at your organization.
- Simplify your systems and tools. Using 10 different applications in the course of a day can feel like its own version of multitasking and creates a mental load that affects productivity. Ask yourself if all the software you currently use is necessary and if you can somehow simplify your systems to allow people to spend less time clicking between windows and more time on the task at hand.