PRODUCTIVITY

Is Multitasking Harmful? Maybe Not

The recent bias against multitasking may be misguided. New studies suggest that polychronic top-management teams facing more interruptions may actually outperform their single-tasking counterparts.
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"Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy," announced The Atlantic in 2007, stating that it "messes with the brain in several ways."

Time-management expert Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing From the Inside Out, has noted studies that show "it takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you’re working on when you switch back and forth among tasks. Think about it: If it takes you 10 minutes to get oriented to a new task every time you switch gears, and you switch gears 10 times a day, that’s over 1.5 hours of wasted time."

But perhaps that time isn’t as wasted as it seems. The "bias against multitasking may be misguided," wrote Vangelis Souitaris and B.M. Marcello Maestro in the Harvard Business Review last year. "In fact, executives who doggedly plow through each task until it’s finished may be doing their companies a disservice. Under some circumstances, top management teams perform better when they accept--even relish--interruptions."

The authors studied executives at nearly 200 new technology ventures on the London Stock Exchange. "We measured top management teams’ polychronicity--their tendency to multitask--and…found that the financial performance of companies with highly polychronic teams was significantly better."

Why? "The polychronic teams proved to be superior information brokers, absorbing and disseminating more-insightful information than their average and monochronic counterparts. As a result, they were much less apt than the other teams to bog down: They could make strategic decisions faster [which] boosted their companies’ performance."

This article originally appeared at The Build Network.

IMAGE: Paul Bradbury / Getty
Last updated: Mar 17, 2014

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF

The Build Network staff curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.




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