Should managers discourage multitasking?

Monday, March 24th, 2014 By Jack Nevison

Multitasking has become an unavoidable part of today's business world. If you work in an office, you likely spend a significant amount of time juggling emails, conference calls, meetings and—when you have time—actual work. When faced with a number of different tasks, we like to think that doing them all at once makes us more productive. However, research is proving that the opposite is true.

According to a recent article on Inc.com, scientists who study the brain have found that in most cases, multitasking is actually bad for productivity, especially when you try to complete several tasks with equal amounts of attention.

That's because the brain, like any engine, needs fuel to operate, leaving only so much capacity for other operations.

"Half the calories a brain burns go towards simply keeping the structure intact by pumping sodium and potassium ions across membranes to maintain an electrical charge," according to a recent TED-Ed video. "The high cost of maintaining resting potentials in all 86 billion neurons means that little energy is left to propel signals down axons and across synapses—the nerve discharges that actually get things done."

There is, however, evidence that some kinds of multitasking can work well. Inc.com writer Adam Vaccaro argues in another article that people who alternate between creative and passive tasks find that they achieve excellent results in both.

To some degree, it comes down to an individual's working style. As a project manager, you should make sure that your team members stay focused on key tasks and do not get bogged down by unproductive multitasking.

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