Multitasking Is Wasteful And Unproductive

By Justin Hitt, Strategic Relations Consultant,

Often managers talk of multi-tasking as a gift to accomplish more in less time, while getting other things accomplished that wouldn't normally be done. I personally think multi-tasking is a huge waste of time and hurts the business relationships around you.

It hurts the relationships because without dedicated attention to duties on hand "unimportant" details slip, while you focus on "critical path" tasks. These seemingly "unimportant" details are often measures of quality in the receiver of the services.

What does this mean? While you feel you've accomplish the task at hand, reached a destination or milestone; it doesn't meet the expectations of the receiver. You may have also incurred hidden costs that introduce financial issues pertaining to the project.

Frank Patrick of Focused Performance addresses exactly why this happens in The Sooner You Start, the Later You Finish where is covers facts about multi-tasking, including the following risks:

Each of these areas introduce conflicts between projects in your organization. Often daily fires experienced in business are caused by individuals trying to do too many things at once.

I'm not advocating slowing down, and often task delays can be used to advance other programs. The measure here is to understand the relationship between projects, programs, resources, and human assets.

Here is one of those times were the relationship between non-human entities influences the progress of your company. If at all possible use a project management style that incorporates multiple views of the events happening in your organization.

In my own work, I've used everything from distributed Microsoft Project to Primavera Enterprise for programs of all sizes. If at all possible setup a management systems that allows the viewing of multiple projects as they interact inside your organization-- this includes a common pool of resources (i.e. human, material, financial) and tiered budget roll-ups.

So what do you do in the times between tasks, or instead of overlapping projects? I recommend just relaxing and catching up on those overlooked tasks. While some recommend meditation and massage (and some major named companies already taking the practice), employees should be encouraged to do that on their own time.

Here are some alternatives to doubling up and trying to multi-task (things to do between tasks or during delays):

  1. Organize your office and clean up your desk. Workplace studies show cutter in your environment slow down your thinking process and introduce additional stress in your daily activities. Have a system for managing your office, take time weekly to put everything in its place.
  2. Perform soft skill activities with those around you. Catch up on communications like phone calls, emails, and return messages. Those moments between tasks can be used to get back to customers on order progress and other extras that often get missed.
  3. Individual skill enhancement to overcome road blocks. Create a list of any challenges you face in your project activities, knock these items off the list with 5 to 15 minutes of focused research that improves your skills. You'll be able to handle the work at hand more effective while improving your career skill set.
  4. Verifying customer expectations and seek feedback. As project related tasks are completed you are contributing to customer expectation, however, most projects don't build in time to measure the results of these efforts. Use the time between tasks to check on the customers desires, gather feedback, and touch base with their needs.
  5. Project focus and reorientation assessment. In the moments between tasks look at the projects mission and compare your activities against its objectives. Are you doing the right work? Is there anything that is being overlooked? This small task can keep projects on track and on budget.
  6. Check on family needs and touch base with children. With so many adults leaving children at home after work, this time between tasks can let them know you're thinking about them. This improves the family relationship connection and keeps parents minds off of concerns there child is getting into trouble. This quick break reminds employees why they are at work, and helps address any "on the way home needs."
  7. Document accomplishments and update project records. Many automated project management systems require feedback from staff, who often feel they are too busy to keep the system up to date. The problem was time between task was spent doing other work, rather than project status updates.

Mass corporate activities that can improve performance:

  1. Set aside corporate quite time. Have a regular period of time where employees are free from interruptions to focus on specific tasks pertaining to the work at hand. These few hours can be taken in the morning, and should cut down on people cramming in extra hours to get things done. The truth is, most office environments aren't productive at all. In my own studies I've found the average professional employee is interrupted (taken away from assigned work) for 22 to 35 minutes per hour.
  2. After hour networking events. Encourage employees to add social activities to their business calendars. Networking events during lunch time, or outside regular work improves the value of your employees. Often they will make connections that can enhance your businesses ability to get the resources it needs to be profitable. An hour long luncheon once a month is a great start; do a light buffet style lunch, invite customers, and encourage individuals to mingle.
  3. Pre-work exercise programs. Team with local health centers and personal trainers for specialized training programs designed to enhance overall employee wellness. Cover areas from meal tips for working parents, exercise on the go, nutritional health planning, to anything else that would specifically interest your employees.  Another useful strategy is to cover activities opposite of daily work, encouraging employees to live a more well rounded lives.
  4. Cross project focus sessions. Share information about lessons learned in other project areas in these cross-project groups. This gives employees a chance to learn from each other in neutral environments. It can be as simple as going around the table each attendee noting their biggest challenge or success over the previous week. Employees can then touch base with each other outside the meeting to exchange ideas (great use for corporate blogs or internal message boards.)

Justin Hitt teaches executives how to create strong business relationships that can increase profits while improving customer loyalty. To learn more about business relationships visit Inside Strategic Relations or call +1 (276) 254-8747

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