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- Work Smarter #37: Multitasking: Can It Help You Get More Done?
February 15, 2011

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Hi, Kell here!

Welcome to the Work Smarter Not Harder Newsletter #37.

Multitasking has become a characteristic of the modern workplace with people doing three things at once. When you think about all the times that you multitask, you may indeed feel as if you get more accomplished because you're doing multiple tasks at once.

This type of thinking makes common sense on the surface, but is actually contradictory to research on the issue.

Research has shown that multitasking does decrease our productivity instead of boosting it. Even though you might think that you're saving time by instant messaging a client while speaking with suppliers on the phone while simultaneously typing an email, the truth of the matter is that it costs time.

In this newsletter we discuss:

  • what the research says about multitasking
  • what you can do about it.

What the research shows

Through the decades, psychology researchers have studied the issue of task-switching, which is essentially what everyone does when multitasking. You're switching from one task to another in a repeated manner.

In 2001, a study titled "Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching" by psychologists Rubenstein, Evans and Meyer, was published in the APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology.

In this report, the researchers studied young adults performing different tasks like solving math problems and classifying geometric objects. The task-switching experiment required the young adults to switch repeatedly from the math problems to the geometry problems.

The researchers found that participants always lost time when the young adults switched from one task to another. The amount of time lost increased as tasks got more complex.

Another study found that multitasking drops productivity by 40% and people who are distracted by incoming phone calls and emails saw a 10-point fall in their IQ....this is the equivalent of losing a whole night's sleep!

Overall, multitasking requires us to shift our attention from one place to another. Researchers in the study above, as well as in previous psychological research, have found that it takes time not only to shift attention, but also to get focused on the task at hand.

What you can do


Since multitasking is not such a good idea, there are ways you can realistically cut time and boost overall productivity.

The first thing you can do during your work day is to plan it in blocks of time. Here are some tips for developing a time management schedule.

In your schedule you should set aside specific times for different tasks, such as one block for making phone calls, another for sending emails and another for writing reports.

If you use a paper-and-pencil system then we recommend Franklin Covey Planners for their thoroughness and their compass plan that keeps you focused on your priorities.

If you use software then Franklin Covey software may be useful for you as a tried-and-tested system.

Manage interruptions

You can also manage your daily interruptions as these also disrupt productivity and force us to switch from one task to another. To manage your interruptions, though, you first need to figure out where they come from.

You can do this by making a list, writing down every time someone or something interrupts your day. From there, you can speak to your colleagues or individuals doing the interrupting in an attempt to manage the lost time.

Alternatively you can download a time management log or use some form of time keeping software (which is especially useful if most of your work in on the computer).

Please pay it forward and share with us how you manage your interruptions here.

Improve your concentration

Focusing properly on the task at hand can help you accomplish tasks quicker.

Every time you're tempted to check your email one last time, visit your favorite websites or play another small game, take a mental step back and take a deep breath to center your attention on your to do list.


All things considered, the time lost due to partaking in several activities at once does not justify using your time to multitask. Though your mind thinks it may be saving time, productivity decreases overall in reality.

To stop multitasking and take advantage of your time wisely, you must continually plan, practice and re-focus your attention on the priorities and tasks at hand that need to be accomplished.

To all of our subscribers, please let us know your comments, views or feedback so that we can improve our site for our most valuable resource


All the best,

Dr Kell and the team at Effective Time Management Strategies.

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