Seduced by “Quick” and “Efficient”

I confess. I’m a multitasker. People rarely, at any one time, have my complete attention as I’m often checking email, having a conversation, writing a message, answering a text, writing down an idea, all possibly at the same time.

Sometimes I think this is part of the way God has wired me, while at other times I realize I’ve been seduced by words such as “quick and efficient.” Sometimes I think I’m addicted to how productive it makes me feel.

In fact, on more than one occasion I’ve had to apologize to co-workers for not giving them my full attention in what I know was a very important meeting to them. My lack of focus can communicate to them that their time isn’t as valuable as mine and that their ideas aren’t either.

Turns out that not only is it often insensitive, but even if it doesn’t bother the people around you it’s not really the best strategy for effectiveness. I read an interesting article a while back on MSNBC entitled “The Cult of Multitasking.” The article said the average employee loses 2.1 hours of productivity every day to interruptions and distractions. Each day a typical office employee checks e-mail 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times.

It went on to say…

The cult of multitasking would have us believe that compulsive message-checking is the behavior of an always-on, hyper-productive worker. But it’s not. It’s the sign of a distracted employee who misguidedly believes he can do multiple tasks at one time. Science disagrees. People may be able to chew gum and walk at the same time, but they can’t do two or more thinking tasks simultaneously.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found that productivity dropped as much as 40 percent when subjects tried to do two or more things at once. The switching exacts other costs, too — mistakes and burnout. One of the study’s authors, David Meyer, asserts bluntly that quality work and multitasking are incompatible.


It’s confession time. Are you in the cult?

8 Responses to “Seduced by “Quick” and “Efficient””

  1. Tessa says:

    Guilty as charged! Especially with that e-mail statistic…I check it more than I’d like to admit, but hopefully it’s not quite close to 50!

  2. Adam says:

    Guilty. Although I have been trying to do better about checking my email at certain times of the day instead of constantly. It is a work in progress.

  3. Jody says:

    I can name on one hand how many times I have completely disagreed with you on this blog, or in this case, I disagree with this article. As a V.P. of sales, I, as well as my staff, can accomplish 10 x in one day what someone did 20 years ago. Is this a justification? Probably. Do I let this behavior bleed over at home, thus neglecting my children at times, yes; But as for productivity, what this article didnt do is compare the amount of daily tasks accomplished via email or text, that didn’t exist 20 years ago, to the average workers phone calls and letters from 20 years ago.

  4. Mike in Milwaukee says:

    I am SO in this cult! In fact, I am multi-tasking as I write this. Hang on a second. Okay, sorry. Now, I think part of my rational is rooted in responding to the tyranny of the urgent at the expense of the important. My lovely bride has to remind me regularly to concentrate on the people, not on the task(s). But, like you, when I do, I feel the people still aren’t really getting “all of me” because my mind is wondering to “the next thing.” It IS a problem! I’d like to talk more about it but I’m on to a few other things… :-)

  5. Suzette Sanderfer says:

    I love post its! Oh wait that’s not the point. Oops! Gotta go send those emails I was supposed to have done by noon. What cult?

  6. Lori in Colorado says:

    Just recently have started to take a step back… realized I wasn’t doing much justice to myself or honoring the time and effort of others. We’ll see….

  7. ThatGuyKC says:

    For a long time I’ve critiqued the idea of multitasking and been skeptical of people who champion it.

  8. […] Pete Wilson wonders if you are part of the cult of multitasking. […]

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