Screwing Up Several Things At Once: Multitasking

Multitasking is sometimes referred to as the art of screwing up several things at once. Well, new research from Stanford University shows that multitasking isn’t only problematic for reducing your efficiency and performance, it may even damage your brain. The research shows that multitasking is less productive and our brains lack the capacity to perform more than one task successfully at the same time. The study found that even those who felt they had a “special gift” to juggle multiple tasks at a time were actually worse at multitasking than doing the items separately. These folks had more trouble removing irrelevant information during the brains natural filtering process as we sort our thoughts. The research even showed that these people were slower at switching from one task to another. But brain damage? The University of London released new data that states multitasking lowers your IQ. Yikes. During cognitive tasks, people who multitasked experienced IQ score declines. The declines correlated to scores of people who had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. In men, IQ drops of 15 points lowered their scores to the range you’d find in an 8-year-old child. Perhaps your 8-year-old could help you with that other task you’re trying to juggle at the same time. Surely loss of IQ is only temporary, right? Actually, researchers at the University of Sussex (UK) found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control. Separate your tasks. Even if it doesn’t cause you brain damage, multitasking is proven to take 30% longer, produce more errors and impair ability to focus. The same goes for organizations. Poor portfolio management is when leadership tries to do everything at once, usually resulting in stretched timelines and increased defects. Effective portfolio management involves feeding projects one at a time to stable teams that don’t “thrash” (i.e. switch between contexts). Agile principles exemplify this and the scrum framework facilitates it.


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