Are multitaskers asking for it?

Now for a pet peeve. I can’t stand when people constantly check email during small group meetings. There. I said it.

We’re all busy people, I know. But chronically looking at your phone in small meetings where a discussion is taking place shows a lack of respect for the people who are actually present. Do you want to send the message that you don’t care about your colleagues’ time or the topic at hand? That’s just not you. Or is it?!

Half-kidding aside, my annoyance got me thinking about multitasking and just how well it works. Do people who check email while their peers are in discussion get more accomplished? Are the master jugglers outperforming those who tackle one task at a time?

A number of scientific studies say no. Take that, email checkers!

One fascinating recent study looked specifically at the pros and cons of doing one thing at a time. The researchers showed that doing tasks sequentially and completing them without skipping around to other things allowed participants to finish their total number of projects much faster.

And, several other studies showed that multitasking can drop productivity by approximately 40 percent.

But what to do? We’re all bombarded with competing requests that demand our immediate attention. Because of this, sequentially completing tasks with conflicting time frames isn’t always possible.

But these studies and others like them do verify my feeling that being present in the moment and finishing a project is often more productive than jumping around. Whenever possible, I apply this to my own work and concentrate solely on what’s in front of me until it’s done well. I hope that my friends the email checkers will do the same!

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