Employers: please stop expecting people to switchtask. Switchtasking hurts productivity, not helps it. Instead, encourage them to focus on one active task at a time.
In my poll last week, people reported an unbelievable 88% of employers expect team members to be “good multitaskers”!
The first edition of my book, The Myth of Multitasking, came out in 2008. The workplace addiction to switchtasking has only gotten worse since then.
We can fight this myth by replacing the word “multitasking” with either “backtasking” or “switchtasking.” This will help clear up a lot of confusion and clarify our intent.
“Backtasking”—short for “background tasking”—occurs when you focus on one task at a time while other work is happening in the background. Backtasking can be productive. Managing multiple projects at the same time is an example of effective backtasking.
But “switchtasking” occurs when you expect people to do multiple attention-requiring tasks simultaneously. This makes people switch rapidly from task to task, and each switch has a cost. This creates mistakes, increases stress, and slows everything down.
Switchtasking, unless it’s absolutely required (emergency services, high-level tech support), is the least productive way to work.
Backtasking = Productive.
Switchtasking = Much less productive.
I challenge leaders to encourage employees to focus on ONE active task at a time.
Try going without switchtasking for a week, and compare productivity levels from previous weeks.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Are you willing to give it a try?