Mutually Assured Multitasking


In Enspire’s information-rich, busy workplace, I sometimes find myself trying to simultaneously execute multiple tasks. I’m not alone in this. The pursuit of productivity, or at least a mirage that feels like productivity, leads many of us to attempt ever greater feats of multitasking. Have any of these occurrences happened to you?

  • You are in a meeting and decide to make a few final touches to an email.
  • During a conference call you receive an instant message from a colleague so you immediately read it and reply.
  • You are in the middle of something when you receive an urgent email about a completely different topic.

Ironically, recently I listened to an NPR Talk of the Nation broadcast titled The Myth of Multitasking. Researchers have tried to assess how humans are coping in this highly connected world and how “chronic multitasking” may diminish our capacity to function effectively. The examples I previously listed were all “non-integrative” items. Meaning the tasks didn’t have anything to do with each other. In the NPR interview, Dr. Clifford Nass, author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop and professor of communication at Stanford, closes by stating, “It’s extremely healthy for your brain to do integrative things. It’s extremely destructive for your brain to do non-integrative things.”

If you haven’t already, take a 1 minute Awareness Test. During this test see if you can count how many passes the team in white makes. How did you do?

Remember how things turned out for Lucy and Ethel when they landed jobs on the chocolate factory assembly line? I hope you have better luck at monitoring and controlling the pace and flow of your work. Mind Tools offers a few tips to help you get started.