The Myth of Multitasking, Finding Focus, Quality vs. Quantity

“Indeed, excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street.  Another study, of 38,000 knowledge workers across different sectors, found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity.  Even multitasking, that prized feat of modern-day office warriors, turns out to be a myth.  Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time.  What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.

Many introverts seem to know these things instinctively, and resist being herded together.  Backbone Entertainment, a video game design company in Oakland, California, initially used an open office plan but found that their game developers, many of whom were introverts, were unhappy.  “It was one big warehouse space, with just tables, no walls, and everyone could see each other,” recalls Mike Mika, the former creative director.  “We switched over to cubicles and were worried about it – you’d think in a creative environment that people would hate that.  But it turns out they prefer having nooks and crannies they can hide away in and just be away from everybody.”

Something similar happened at Reebok International when, in 2000, the company consolidated 1,250 employees in their new headquarters in Canton, Massachusetts  The managers assumed that their shoe designers would want office space with plenty of access to each other so they could brainstorm (an idea they probably picked up when they were getting their MBAs).  Luckily, they consulted first with the shoe designers themselves, who told them that actually what they needed was peace and quiet so they could concentrate.”

— From Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain


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2 Responses to The Myth of Multitasking, Finding Focus, Quality vs. Quantity

  1. Jodi says:

    I was just talking to my staff about this today. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to convince them that they should turn off email alerts and set aside time during the day when they don’t check email. I really believe the need to check things instantly is an addiction and it kills productivity, but it’s really powerful.

    • pbeznoska says:

      Yeah, I’m battling with this one at work. I just want to be able to focus on one thing and do it really well, rather than sprinting through 5 things knowing that I probably screwed something up or am missing something that will ultimately come back to haunt me.

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