Juggling all those work balls may seem like a great way to enhance productivity, but Bruce Weinstein says it only allows you to do more things badly. It can be as simple as a supermarket checkout clerk having a conversation with her bagger friend and charging you $4.99 a pound for organic peaches instead of the $2.99-a-pound nonorganic nectarines you have in your cart. Or it can be as critical as trying to revive your hard drive. From Business Week Online:
When you multitask, you're doing a lot of work, but you're not doing most (or any) of it well. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that people who fired off e-mails while talking on the phone and watching YouTube videos did each activity less well than those who focused on one thing at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! (Ballantine, 2006), puts it this way: "Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we're simultaneously tasking, but we're really not. It's like playing tennis with three balls."
A bank executive I know frequently complains about how distracted her boss is during staff meetings. The boss--I'll call him Eric--reads and writes e-mail and makes calls while briefing the staff. "I'll ask Eric a question about an assignment he's given us," my friend complains, "but he's so immersed in what he's doing that I have to repeat my question a couple of times. It ends up taking me three times as long to communicate with him." Eric isn't a bad person. But he's not a good manager, either. Since multitasking interferes with the ability to do one's job well, the good manager sets an example by focusing on one task at a time.
*NYT finds that cell phone use while driving has led to heated discussions among family and friends.
Grace Andrews, 49, a corporate consultant in Melrose, Mass., is the one taking heat in her family. Her husband, Joe Nardone, 44, and her son, Colby Andrews, 12, despise her incessant use of the phone, which she concedes can be over-the-top. "I honestly do laugh at myself all the time," says Ms. Andrews. "Is it really possible that I am talking on the phone, e-mailing and driving with my knees simultaneously?" Her husband and son tell her that she cares more about the phone than she cares about them, and that she's putting herself and others at risk.