What was that?…Sorry, I was multitasking

Are you a multitasker? I think many of us have claimed that “skill” with pride and worn it as a badge of honor.  However, research has shown that it should be viewed as multitaxing on your health and overall productivity. In reality, there is quite a bit of evidence that multitasking reduces productivity.  According to the 2005 study “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work”, after you’re interrupted by another task, (i.e., checking your e-mail when that little “ding” is heard) it takes about 25 minutes to return to your primary job. Twenty-five minutes?  Are you kidding? I could get so much accomplished in that 25 minutes with my well-honed multitasking abilities! Wait a minute – maybe I’ve lost the plot on true productivity! Apparently, it’s more about actually getting real, quality work done vs. just marking various tasks off the almighty to-do list.

IMPACTS: There are the obvious hazards to multitasking when driving and texting or even just talking on the phone. But the less obvious hazards are about damaging relationships and making poor business decisions because we’ve made people feel unimportant or missed a key piece of information due to our multi-tasking habit. The big impacts to productivity occur from making mistakes and having difficulty remembering things. We end up spending time making corrections/doing double-work and wasting time trying to find things or having a conversation AGAIN on the same topic because we didn’t remember what was said the first time.

This last point is a good transition into how multitasking can damage relationships. If you are revisiting topics already discussed, your audience is going to get frustrated because now you are wasting their time, plus they get the feeling that “you just don’t listen” to them. Not BEING PRESENT is really quite disrespectful to others involved. They feel undervalued and assume you don’t care that much – “Something else must be more important than interacting with me.”

SOUND FAMILIAR? I’m sure you’ve all witnessed someone in a meeting more engaged with their phone or computer vs. the meeting they are physically attending. If you are the one presenting, how does that make you feel? It applies to conference calls as well. How many times have you heard typing in the background or received an email/text from someone who is supposed to be participating on the same call. It’s obvious they are trying to clear their email que or maybe even focusing on an entirely different topic. Of course my favorite is when a question is asked of a person who is obviously not engaged because they are multi-tasking.  “Sorry, I missed that. Can you repeat the question?”  AKA – “I was doing something else I thought was more important than being attentive on this call.”

LET’S MAKE A CHANGE: It’s so tempting and I am so guilty of being one of these multitaskers, but I’m determined to change my ways. After reading up on this fiendish habit, I decided to try being fully engaged when on conference calls and WOW – it really does make a difference! I don’t have to spend as much time going back to my cryptic notes and trying to recall the essence of the discussion. Instead, I finish the call and swing into action on any to-do’s or follow-up communication. I also am more tuned in to the tone of voice I hear and can probe appropriately if I sense they are uncomfortable or holding back on something. The other person really feels like they were “heard” and that does a lot for building relationships.

I think all of the technology at our fingertips contributes to our inclination to multi-task. In fact, it’s a huge contributor to the small attention spans the Gen Y crowd. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that younger people switch media 27 times per hour?


  • Pay attention to the times that the urge to multitask occur. Being aware of these will help you think of how it’s impacting your productivity. When it happens refocus on the task at hand.
  • Disable those multitask triggers: 1) turn off your email alert; 2) address emails by blocking time on your calendar to focus on them; 3) turn off your phone
  • When on a conference call, turn away from your computer (unless you are using it to look at relevant materials). Just focus on the materials being covered.  Pretend you are in a face-to-face meeting…and behaving like an engaged participant!
  • When meeting face-to-face with someone, put the phone away! Maintain eye contact and maybe even take notes!
  • For everyone’s safety – while driving, please NO texting and if you must make a phone call only use a phone if it’s hands-free. For best results, turn off your phone completely.

I guarantee you will finish the day more calm and satisfied with your accomplishments.  It’s quite liberating!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @MDuesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@www.people-results.com.