The Cult of Multi-Tasking

I confess. I’m a multi-tasker. People rarely, at any one time, have my complete, undivided 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, I often find myself apologizing to co-workers and family members for not giving them my full attention in what I know are very important moments to them. I’m afraid my lack of focus communicates to them that their time is not as valuable as mine and 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 last night 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.

So it’s confession time. Are you in the cult?