Multitasking Excess.. Productivity May Be Up, But Quality Is Down

Multitasking Excess.. Productivity May Be Up, But Quality Is Down

I multi-task constantly. While I am writing this article on my laptop, I am also talking to my husband, half watching television, and cuddling with my dog. When I eat breakfast in the morning, I am also perusing my Blackberry messages, looking through snail mail and flipping through new magazines.

This trend of multi-tasking excess follows me into work and seems to run rampant among anyone with a Manager title or higher. And, it’s directly related to the wonderful inventions of instant messenging, air cards, Blackberries, laptops etc.

When we get out of work, we see multi-tasking everywhere we go. Cell phones in movie theaters, laptops in airports, texting in malls.. we can’t get away.

Although these inventions help to make us more productive, I also feel that they negatively impact the quality of our work, the quality of customer service and our “work – life” balance. You may have heard the term ‘Work Smarter, Not Harder”. All of these gadgets give us the appearance of working smarter, but maybe we need to get back to working harder.

Lots Of Cell Phones and PDAs! www.sfgate.com
Lots Of Cell Phones and PDAs! www.sfgate.com
Obama on his Blackberry.
Obama on his Blackberry.

The Work Day Never Quite Ends

As a direct result of the invention and then popularity of “the Blackberry” a leader’s work day never ends. Most Managers already work long hours and pre- Blackberry there was a set ending to your day, even if that was 8PM. When we had just cell phones, you could get an after hours call from time to time, but only for very urgent things,

Now, any leader with a company paid for Blackberry is expected to check email through out the evening into the next morning, before the next work day starts. If you don’t, you will be left behind and may even miss critical deadlines. This holds true for expectations over the weekend.

I know for me, this impacts my ability to fully relax and “de-stress”. If I am having a great time with friends or family and then I check my Blackberry, I can sometimes feel my adrenaline start to pump if I read anything that I don’t particularly like.

When I went on my two week honeymoon last year, I left everything about work including my Blackberry behind. It was the first time in years that I was able to completely clear my mind from work and I came back to the office fully refreshed and productive.

Lots Of Meetings- But Not Enough Attendee Engagement

I can’t think of a recent meeting I was in where every attendee was fully engaged. For example, an average meeting might have ten attendees. One or two are attending the meeting via the telephone and are driving in their car at the same time.

Another two are sitting in their office with the phone on mute, also reading email and sending and receiving instant messages. Of the remaining seven attendees participating in person, at least four are checking their Blackberry messages or have their laptop activated with an “air card” and are reading email or surfing the internet, while the meeting is going on.

That leaves about two people full engaged, and usually one is the meeting facilitator.

"No Cell Phone" Sign: Courtesy of Son of the South.  www.sonofthesouth.net
"No Cell Phone" Sign: Courtesy of Son of the South. www.sonofthesouth.net

Restaurant Patrons Ignored While Workers Read Texts

My husband and I go out to eat frequently and have noticed a new trend - restaurant workers reading and sending text messages while they are supposed to be waiting on patrons.

On New Year’s Eve, we were waiting to get served at a bar and the Bartender was too busy reading her texts. Last week, we stopped to grab some appetizers at a mid-scale restaurant and saw two different waiters walking across the restaurant while gazing down at their telephone screens.

A friend of mine was recently waiting in line at a popular coffee chain and the line was delayed while the cashier finished sending a text.

We keep hearing about how restaurants are struggling in this bad economy, so why are Restaurant Managers allowing their staff members to ignore patrons?

The President's New Blackberry- Revealed!

Obama, The First President With a Blackberry

While Obama was running for office he got a lot of press for his Blackberry addiction. He was quoted saying that administrators would have to "pry it from my hands" after becoming inaugurated.

Now, as President, he’s been given a super special, extra secure, military grade PDA. You can read more about his PDA here.

I am actually happy about this development. I wonder how the leader of our nation could get by without reading his email and staying in touch 24 hours per day. I officially endorse Obama’s multi-tasking!!

Even Babies Are Multitasking!

Multitasking Up- Quality Down

When I discuss this topic with friends and family, I learn that this not unique to me or employees at my company. These trends are happening everywhere.

Here are some related articles: "Your Brain on Multitasking", from the Head Rush blog, "is Multitasking a Good idea", by Sandi Smith and "Why Multitasking is a Waste of Time" by Toby Somerville.

I was inspired to write this article after catching myself talking on the phone, answering instant messages, reading email AND trying to complete a self-paced online training module- all at the same time.

So....Do you agree? Has multi-tasking driven down quality OR do the advantages of multi-tasking outweigh any downside?

Please share your comments below.

Copyright 2009, M. Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

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Comments 12 comments

Lissie profile image

Lissie 7 years ago from New Zealand

I would cancel any meeting where people hadnt turned their cells off and I would never allow laptops in the room for the purposes of surfing! I used to cancel meetings were people turned up more than 10min late too!

I think its an illusion you are not more productive - you just aren't attending to what you are supposed to be doing


Dan 7 years ago

So true and anyone not turning off cell phones and computers in meetings dont belong there. It is disrespectful and unproffesional.


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

I've avoided getting the blackberry because my life is jacked already in terms of phone calls, they just do not stop. I like the fact there is some separation between the emails and me and I won't get the service on my phone, just quite yet, but i know anyday its coming, and I will give in :(


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

I think it rather depends on what I'm doing. I'm quite capable of cooking, putting the washing on, and playing with my son at the same time.

But if I'm working, I really focus on it. It takes a bomb to distract me, I don't usually notice if my phone rings!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

True about expectations to "be available" at any time, any day of the week. The one way to revert that which works for me is not picking up after hours. Eventually, people get the clue that you aren't there in your own free time. It's a silly myth that one'll miss a deadline if one doesn't check email at all hours, I can't recall a single deadline I missed on account of NOT being there at 9pm! The f*cker deadline was still there in the morning!


ajbarnett profile image

ajbarnett 7 years ago from Costa Blanca, Spain

Another good hub, Reynolds.

I really can't see what's so damn important that a text  can't wait. Why does a mobile need to be switched on whilst in a meeting or waiting on in a restaurant? Is the life of these people life really SO fast-paced they can't wait a while? In my opinion most of it is ignorance.

Multi-tasking will never halt, I'm afraid, more especially when you have kids. However, to add to the problem with technology is wrong. There's a time and a place. In a meeting, or when serving other people, is definitely not the right place.


Reynolds_Writing profile image

Reynolds_Writing 7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for all of your comments..I was discussing this "have to text constantly" trend with some friends and one of them commented that all these gadgets keep people constantly busy and "doing something" which takes them away from actually thinking about themselves and their lives.. Almost a way to escape. I think there's some truth to that...


T. Kuhl 7 years ago

I agree that part of this constant 'need to keep in touch' is actually a form of escapism. And it's one that will cost us dearly in our ability to actually concentrate on problems.

I myself multi-task. But I do draw the line at texting while working. In fact, I don't have a text-capable device. Nor do I IM: I used to, but my stress levels went sky-high while trying to deal with a lot of people who couldn't understand that I just might want a few minutes to myself to deal with whatever was on my plate. I feel much better since I closed down my AIM account.

Given my experience- I think it might be a good thing for people to be just a bit less in touch with eachother and more with themselves.


Reynolds_Writing profile image

Reynolds_Writing 7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

I agree with you T. Kuhl.. Thanks for taking the time to provide your detailed comments.


Frank Kenn 7 years ago

You pose very interesting points many of which I agree, but being realistic intodays "do more with less people" environments that many many companies are forcing on their employees creates a dilemna - one I would like to get your feedback on... I am in a very fast paced environment that demandsmulti-tasking. Simply working harder only means "we work harder" not more efficiently. I am in many all-day strategy planning and status meetings on a regular basis. Our corporate culture is one of unified understanding that multi-tasking is required to be as productive as possible. How does one NOT multi-task in an evironment like that. I joined my Firm becuase I am a 115% high energy - go getter that THRIVES on constant contact and results. Sadly, we have burned through alot of folks who are just not that type of material (i.e.: like some of the respondants of this post that say they think a blackberry during a meeting is disrespectful). Now, I do beleive it is sad, but it is true that folks here would chew those types of people up and spit them out. In the last week alone we have had a few folks depart becuase of their inability to "keep up and stay productive". I think that in todays enviro more and more companies are going to ask for more and more from less headcount. It's a sign of the times and economic conditions and I think we should all be prepared. Kids these days getting out of school are basically "born" to multi-task and if you can't keep up, you'll get run over - especially by the young folks that are determined (then again this is one mans simple opinion) :)

But great and informative post and it defintiely spurs debate - which is always good so you get to see all sides! - Nice job!

- Frank


JennifersJumpers profile image

JennifersJumpers 7 years ago

You've said what I've been thinking for a while. Multitasking kills brain cells ;)


seyiari profile image

seyiari 7 years ago

I THINK I LOVE THIS. I WILL REALLY THINK TOWARDS THIS ASPECT TO MAKE A WRITE UP TOO. GOOD WORK

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