Hidden dangers of multitasking

by Michael A. Dalton

How often have you seen companies look for new employees with the “ability to multitask”?

But by now don’t we all know that multitasking is a dangerous myth? One that adds waiting time to projects, results in poor productivity, and delays projects from finishing on time.

If you still have any doubts, you might want to take my multitasking test  in this Industry Week article.

But beyond the obvious productivity and quality loss, there’s a hidden cost to multitasking. It’s my assertion that multitasking degrades your creativity and has an insidious impact on innovation. These assertions aren’t based on any study, but instead on my own experience.

As a voracious reader, without enough free time to get to all the books on my reading backlog, I recently started listening to audiobooks on my phone during both my daily workouts and an extended commute to a client’s facility. What a great way to utilize my downtime to get some other things done.  Win-Win right? How could that be any harm?

But after only a few short months  I was actually feeling less productive. On further reflection, I realized that some of my best ideas and solutions come to me when I’m not thinking about the problem itself. In fact, after workouts, I’ll often come back with a long list of new ideas to pursue. But that wasn’t happening anymore since my free time was now busy time.

Now you might question how this is any different than listening to the radio? Whether working out or driving long distances, activities like listening to music seem to allow the subconscious parts of the brain to work work in the background. But audiobooks, whether the latest business book or your favorite novel, require you to use the cognitive parts of your brain to follow a narrative. So filling up my downtime with this mental activity, while allowing me to squeeze in more learning, was actually hurting my creativity.

In today’s 24/7 always plugged in world, we’re not giving our brains the space we need for creativity. So do yourself and your creativity a favor. Ditch the multitasking and give your brain some downtime. It may not seem as productive, but it will reward you with better ideas and more of them.

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