The myth of multitasking

Is multitasking killing your company’s productivity?

As a CEO, I know that one of the best things to come out of the past year is the accelerated acceptance of a hybrid work model. Employees have done a remarkable job balancing the typical distractions of work communications from Slack, email, and phone, along with those from pets, kids, roommates, neighbors, and in some cases even parents.

But as a psychologist, I know that whether companies embrace a fully remote, hybrid, or in-office model going forward, it’s time to reckon with the decades-old problem of multitasking. The American Psychological Association has reported that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% in productivity.

Why is the cost of multitasking so high? Because our brains were never meant to multitask in the first place.

“Multitasking” as a concept has been around since the 1960s, when it was first used by IBM to discuss computer functionalities. It quickly entered the mainstream, because people liked the idea of being able to optimize how they spent their time. If you were completing multiple things at once, then surely you would be a more productive employee, a better parent, or a more accomplished hobbyist.


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