Multitasking in the workplace – overrated?

Go ahead and google multitasking in the workplace. You’ll find an almost endless amount of resources that promise to teach you the ins and outs of becoming the best and most efficient multitasker on the planet. It seems like everyone wants to become great at multitasking. Why?

Why is it that people associate multitasking at work with being more productive? A better employee? More dependable? More dedicated? In corporate America, there’s even a popular saying: “If you want something done properly, give it to a busy person.” If someone is already busy and overloaded, why do we think it’s a good idea to pile more on their plate? How can that be a good thing?

Busy does not equal productive!

Let’s just sit with that thought for a minute. This bold statement isn’t intended to get all your overly busy hackles up. It’s meant to give you pause and time to re-evaluate what it means to multitask in the workplace. Spoiler alert: we actually think multitasking in the workplace is a bad thing.

Multitasking “skills” don’t exist

Multitasking at work means juggling numerous projects or to-do items and having to constantly shift back and forth between concepts and change focus on a dime. This leads many of your team members to actually be less productive.

Feelings of stress and looming deadlines actually stymie productivity and workplace satisfaction, so why do we keep perpetuating that by promoting the concept of multitasking?

We’ve all seen team members in meetings that are highly distracted or are there physically but checked out mentally because they’re focused on five other tasks that needed to be completed yesterday. You’ve probably even been guilty of this numerous times if you’re honest about it.

“Multitasking” is really just switching back and forth between tasks

Think about it. You can’t respond to two emails at the same time or carry on a proper conversation in which you are making a meaningful contribution while you’re simultaneously listening to a voicemail from a colleague. You’re either focused on one or the other. So, the term “multitasking” is really a misnomer. It’s a concept that we as humans are really incapable of mastering.

Multitasking actually wastes time

Trying to multitask and focus on more than one job at a time actually leads us to perform all of those jobs suboptimally. It also takes much longer to complete a task when you have to continually put it aside to work on one, two, or ten other tasks. Every time you pull focus from a job, upon returning to it, you waste valuable time and energy trying to remember where you were in the process and what you were supposed to be doing to drive that job closer to completion. It’s the epitome of inefficiency. In fact, there are several recent studies that support this ideology.

Too much multitasking leads to mistakes and substandard results.

Trying to focus on too many things at once actually undermines your ability to categorize the importance of each task and its level of urgency. It also causes you to have to constantly pivot and change directions. This leads to feelings of overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and frustration. Not only that, but this constant shifting of focus causes you to retain less information and even changes the way your brain functions.

“Can you repeat that, please?”

How many times have you heard this or said it yourself during a team meeting or even a one-on-one meeting with a colleague? Every single time this phrase is said, it’s because someone isn’t paying full attention to the topic at hand. If this happens at work, the chances are high that it’s because someone is trying to multitask.

The solution: stop multitasking!

If you take away anything from this post, we hope it’s that the time has come to stop promoting the concept of multitasking within our companies. We also need to stop doing it ourselves. Teaching your team (and yourself) that each and every task or job deserves our full, undivided attention will create a sense of ease in the workplace. Allowing your employees to breathe out and release the burden of taking on more and more in order to feel productive or important will have positive results when it comes to workplace productivity, employee engagement, and loyalty.

Gone are the days when we could expect our employees to take on more and more without getting burned out.

Here at One Team Partners, we like to hold each other accountable to this idea of single-tasking by using a codeword. When we see another person’s attention drifting during a meeting or conversation, we will say “elephant” to remind them to shift their focus back to us. We find it a fun and effective way to remind each other to stay present. It’s also helped to create a company culture in which it’s okay not to be perfect and to have our colleagues gently and lightheartedly hold us accountable.

Learning to stop multitasking takes practice

It has become ingrained in us for so long that it’s practically our default behavior when at work, especially in today’s world with social media presence and additional unnecessary distractions. If you or your team needs help unlearning how to multitask at work, we’ve got some great strategies and steps that you can take. Reach out to see how we can help your company start to suck at multitasking and excel at becoming taskmasters. Also, be sure to subscribe to our blog for tons of tips and insights on other great leadership topics that will help you and your company to continually improve.


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