Sunday, 04 October 2009 00:00

Multitasking Wastes Time

Rate this item
(0 votes)

Multitasking Image How many times have you heard someone say men are poor at multitasking? Well, that is probably a good thing, since multitasking is horribly inefficient. When I first said this in a presentation, people were shocked and took exception to the statement. After a few studies on the subject (summarized in a Harvard Business Review article), people are listening and agreeing. This should be nothing new. Looking at some of the more common methods to reign in red projects—Agile and Critical Chain—one premise they share is dedicating resources.

The Established Theory

In most organizations, this is a very difficult concept to change. It is well ingrained that multitasking is good and expedites work. However, dedicating resources maintains focus, increases efficacy and reduces frustration. Management puts forth the most resistance to dedicating people to tasks. They want to preserve the concept of multitasking so they have the flexibility to quickly reassign resources. What seems odd is that in organizations that insist on multitasking, they still fall back to one common practice—if a project gets in trouble, they immediately ask that resources be dedicated to their tasks. Down deep, management understands that multitasking is inherently inefficient.

Team members love being dedicated to their work. They know they will work more efficiently and with less frustration. Stopping and starting the task adds significant time and risk.

A Simple Example

Critical Chain and Agile methodologies require dedicating resources. Many supporters use an example like that shown in Figure 1. It is the classic diagram to show the effect of multitasking. It shows three separate tasks, each two weeks long, being done by the same person all needing to be done at the same time. In the upper case, the person multitasks. All tasks are late. Task A is completed two weeks late, Task B is three weeks late and Task C is four weeks late. The average is three weeks late.

In the lower case, the person is dedicated to the tasks and perform them uninterrupted. Task A is done on time, Task B is done two weeks late and Task C is done four weeks late. Only two tasks are late, the average being two weeks late, a week earlier than multitasking.

Comparing the two concepts in another way, Task A is done two weeks earlier than when multitasking (actually completed on time), Task B is done two weeks late (a week earlier than when multitasking) and Task C is four weeks late (no different than when multitasking). This simple diagram shows how poor the concept multitasking is.

Where is Common Sense?

Common sense backs up the studies. However, common sense seems to be failing in most organizations. What managers need to do is to assign priorities to the work and stop the interruptions. Close examination of many of the interruptions shows that knee-jerk reactions, asking people to switch tasks, are made with too little data. The key to well run organizations is allowing people to complete their current assignment before switching to a demand driven task.

About That Gender Bias

Back to the opening premise about men being poor at multitasking, this is a classic sexist comment, not about men, per se, but about homemakers. Yes, it comes from the fact that most women are homemakers, even if they haves a full-time jobs. The homemaker (male or female) has to multitask. Efficiency is of minimal concern, the home is. If the two year-old center of your life is about to climb the book shelf, grab a butcher knife, pour super glue on your cell phone or feed oatmeal to the DVD player, the effective homemaker better stop doing bills and switch tasks at a instant’s notice, diverting the required attention to the little bundle of joy. It may take longer to do the chores, however potential disaster is averted. As my dear Mom used to say, "The housework will still be here tomorrow."

Read 7266 times

Related items

  • Filling Execution Gaps

    Executives define vision, strategy, and goals to advance the business. Projects enable companies to meet those goals. Between strategy and projects, there is a lot of work to be done—work that lays the foundation for the projects’ success. Through experience and research, six common gaps exist in organizations that inhibit project success—absence of common understanding, disengaged executive sponsors, misalignment with goals, poor change management, ineffective governance, and lackluster leadership.

  • Get Recognized as a Leader: Four Core Leadership Actions

    Leaders make decisions. This requires a core set of actions to gather the best information, hear out the concerns of others, and making a decision that everyone will follow—even if they do not necessarily agree with the decision. This session covers the four core leadership actions (listening, dialog and discussion, selling a vision, and elimination of blame) that are critical in your journey as a leader. We discuss and practice these actions in small role-playing groups.

  • Build Your Leadership Style: Six Leadership Strategies

    As project managers, you need to change your leadership style based on the situation. The need for a situational style is more important in project management than in nearly any other business position. Commanding the six core strategies—directive, expert, consensus, engaging, coaching, and affiliative—allows you to build the style most appropriate for the conditions surrounding project.

  • Extreme Leadership: A Matter of Life and Death

    Leadership at any level of the company can save your business. It also saves lives. It could be your own life; it could be a stranger’s life. This opening or lunch keynote takes project management and leadership out of the mundane and safe work environment, inspiring your audience by seeing how leadership and good analysis shape and change lives.

  • Develop Your Inner Leader: Nine Leadership Traits

    One cornerstone of leadership is our personality traits. Project managers need to develop and hone nine core traits—accountability, ethics, inspiration, decisiveness, awareness, empathy, confidence, focus, and humility—to ensure they can lead our diverse work forces. This track session is a deep dive into these traits using a roundtable discussion format—the audience voices there opinion of what the trait is and the presenter moderates the discussion and gives guidance on what that means in a business setting.

Leave a comment

Filling Execution Gaps

Available Worldwide

Filling Exectution Gaps cover

Filling Execution Gaps is available worldwide. Below are some options.


PG DirectLogo
Limited Time Price $20.99
Amazon logo
Book or Kindle
Flag of the United States Canadian Flag Flag of the United Kingdom Irish Flag Deutsche Flagge
Drapeau Français Bandiera Italiana PRC flag
Japanese flag
Bandera de España
Flag of India
Bandera de México
Bandeira do Brasil
Flag of Australia
Vlag van Nederland
DeG Press Logo
Barnes and Noble Logo
Books a Million Logo
Booktopia Logo
Worldwide: Many other
book sellers worldwide.

Rescue The Problem Project

Internationally acclaimed

Image of RPP

For a signed and personalized copy in the US visit the our eCommerce website.

Amazon logo
Buy it in the United States Buy it in Canada Buy it in the United Kingdom
Buy it in Ireland Buy it in Germany Buy it in France
Buy it in Italy Buy it in the PRC
Buy it in Japan
Book sellers worldwide.

Upcoming Events

Other's References

More Info on Project Recovery

Tell me More!

Please send me more information
on fixing a failing project.