Multitasking Lowers Your Productivity

How many times are you interrupted in a typical day? It can be incredibly discouraging to work a full day and feel as if you’ve accomplished nothing. All of the “quick questions” from your coworkers turn into hours wasted on interruptions.

New research from Accenture shows that 98 percent of employees worldwide spend part of their workday multitasking. Multitasking is the ultimate productivity killer, and actually does an immense amount of damage to your brain.

Accenture’s research, called #ListenLearnLead, which surveyed 3,600 professionals from 30 countries, showed almost two-thirds (64 percent) say that listening has become much more difficult in today’s workplace.

While 66 percent of respondents say multitasking enables them to accomplish more at work, more than a third (36 percent) say the many distractions prevent them from doing their best work.

So how does multitasking affect you? Let’s look at the research.

Multitasking Lowers Your Productivity

In a study done in 2001, researchers found that people lost a lot of time when switching from one task to another, and the effects were even worse as the tasks became more complex.

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According to the researcher:

“Meyer suggests that productivity can be reduced by as much as 40 percent by the mental blocks created when people switch tasks.”

In another study, researchers from George Mason University in Washington tested how work interruptions affected the quality of work.

The participants had to write essays based on random topics and were put into two groups; one that was interrupted many times and the other, with no interruptions.

“Findings revealed that those in the group that experienced frequent interruptions typically scored lower regarding the quality and composure of their writing than those who did not deal with any interruptions. Researchers concluded that participants who were interrupted during the writing phase also wrote significantly fewer words than those in the control group.”

Multitasking Lowers Your Emotional Intelligence

Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

What You Can Do About It

In the #ListenLearnLead survey that I referenced earlier, one of the questions that was asked was “what interrupts your workday the most?”

The answers were:

  • Telephone calls (79 percent)
  • Unscheduled meetings/visitors (72 percent)
  • Instant messaging (30 percent)
  • Texting (28 percent)

Here are a few ideas that have worked for me that you can try to implement to help reduce the amount of multitasking and interruptions.

Timebox Your Tasks

There are a few different techniques that you can use, but the point is to only work on one task for a set period of time, no distractions allowed. Turn off notifications, put your phone on silent, and somehow show that you can’t be disturbed (I use headphones).

One of the most popular ones is called the pomodoro technique, which is where you work on a single task for 25 minutes, and then take a five minute break. The good thing about the five minute break is you can get up and stretch your legs, since it’s not good to be sitting for too long.

No More Conference Calls (Unless Absolutely Necessary)

The Accenture study also showed 8 in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls, and I’m sure everyone reading this has been on a conference call that they ultimately didn’t need to be on.



Be More Mindful

In a study done at University of California, they found that people interrupted themselves almost as much as they were interrupted by external sources. They interrupted themselves about 44% of the time, almost half. Meaning that we need to work on stopping our own internal interruptions as much as possible.

Things like exercise, deep breathing, or mindful meditation can help you become calmer and more alert and able to focus.

Use A Scheduler

This is a simple productivity hack, and it’s surprising how much this one has helped me. I literally schedule time in my calendar to work on tasks. Then when people want to book something with me, I use a product called Calendly so that people can see what available time are left.

What Do You Do To Help You Focus More At Work?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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Jacob Shriar

I currently serve as the Growth Manager at Officevibe. I'm passionate about web and mobile. I love online marketing, and I have Google and Hubspot certifications to show for it. I believe that good marketing comes effortlessly through honesty, transparency, and a solid product. I'm passionate about startups and culture. It's something that I read and talk about a lot. I also believe that you should never stop learning.

  • Dr. Ellen Weber

    Great article Jacob, and so on track. Thanks! Few people realize how multitasking bottlenecks the brain – in ways that leave many of the tasks short. Love your suggestions for mindfulness! Vital to growth of any organization – and we now have neuro-discoveries to see why so:-). Best, Ellen

    • JacobShriar

      Thanks Ellen! I appreciate that.

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