How Effective at Multitasking are We?


According to no less than the Cleveland Clinic, ” Studies (regarding multitasking) show it makes us less efficient and more prone to errors.”

Cleveland Clinic goes on to make the case:

  • When tasks are easy and routine such as, “like listening to music while walking, or folding laundry while watching TV,” these are generally not a problem.
  • However, when tasks are difficult and complex the situation changes dramatically and attempts at multitasking can be dangerous and even deadly.

Many of us live in neighborhoods where drivers can be fined if they talk on a cell phone (even handsfree) in a school zone.  Another example is the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Sterile Cockpit Rule which states, ” requiring pilots to refrain from non-essential activities during critical phases of flight, normally below 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).”

Moreover, multitasking does not just have to be balancing a number of concurrent tasks, it can also  include managing tasks against some criteria, i.e. budget constraints.

Safety, Safety, Safety

In the blog series, as well as a host of publications include our 2014 book,  Implementing a Culture of Safety: A Roadmap to Performance-Based Compliance we have sought to drive the need for ALL organizations in the Critical Infrastructure sectors to live have a strong Safety Culture coupled with High Reliability operating performance.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Similarly, many executives seem to prefer to spend their days going from meeting to meeting.  The belief is often that keeping busy is a proxy for progress.  In reality, it usually is not.

Final Thoughts

The referenced Cleveland Clinic article goes on to say, “The more we multitask, the less we actually accomplish, because we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn.”  In this multitasker, this sentence says it all.

It is easy to watch TV while doing daily chores.  I do this all the time.  It is an entirely different matter to managing an offshore drilling process multitasking.  The systemic mistakes made in 2010 on the Deepwater Horizon are capture in detail in the book, Deepwater Horizon: A Systems Analysis of the Macondo Disaster.  Lessons learned are applicable to all in complex working environments.

Does your organization favor multitaskers over those who focus?  If so, stakeholder value is likely degrading.

For More Information

Please note, RRI does not endorse or advocate the links to any third-party materials herein.  They are provided for education and entertainment only.

See our Economic Value Proposition Matrix® (EVPM) for additional information and a free version to build your own EVPM.

The author’s credentials in this field are available on his LinkedIn page.  Moreover, Dr. Shemwell is a coauthor of the just published book, “Smart Manufacturing: Integrating Transformational Technologies for Competitiveness and Sustainability.”  His focus is on Operational Technologies.

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” (Martin Luther King speech at Cornell College, 1962).  For more information on Cross Cultural Engagement, check out our Cross Cultural Serious Game.  You can contact this author as well.

For more details regarding climate change models, check out Bjorn Lomborg ands his latest book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.

Regarding the economics of Climate Change, check out our blog, Crippling Green.

For those start-up firms addressing energy (including renewables) challenges, the author can put you in touch with Global Energy Mentors which provide no-cost mentoring services from energy experts.  If interested, check it out and give me a shout.

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