Why Science says Multitasking Doesn’t Work in the Workplace

Everyone who thinks they can multitask… raise your hands. Now, everyone who thinks they can produce the same qualitative output whether multitasking or focusing on just one specific task keep your hands raised.

With exception to the ladies who are still convinced they can multitask and get effective work done, the room should now have their hands down.

Science & Biology; Pro-Multitasking (2 tasks)

I recently found a scientific article from April of last year entitled Multitasking Splits the Brain that states; “Neuroscientists Etienne Koechlin and Sylvain Charron of the French biomedical research agency INSERM in Paris turned to functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures changes in brain activity. They monitored 16 women and 16 men, aged 19 to 32, as they performed a complicated letter-matching task.

As the team expected, working on a single letter-matching task at a time activated both sides of the volunteers’ brains, setting off the anterior-to-posterior chain of command to get the job done. But as soon as the volunteers took on the second task, their brains split the labor: activity in the left side of the prefrontal cortex corresponded to one task while the right side took over the other task. Each side of the brain worked independently, pursuing its own goal and monetary reward, the team reports in tomorrow’s issue of Science.

Koechlin says the results suggest that the brain can’t efficiently juggle more than two tasks because it has only two hemispheres available for task management. Indeed, when the team asked another 16 volunteers to match letters of the same color while completing the same two letter-matching tasks the first group tackled, the triple-task jugglers consistently forgot one of their tasks. They also made three times as many errors as they did while dual-tasking.”

“In terms of everyday behavior, you can cook and talk on the phone at the same time,” Koechlin explains. “The problem arises when you pursue three goals at the same time. Your prefrontal cortex will always discard one.”

Science & Biology; Contra Multitasking

We can get a better qualitative perspective from a more recent article  entitled Media multitasking  is really multi-distraction; “Multitaskers who think they can successfully divide their attention between the program on their television set and the information on their computer screen proved to be driven to distraction by the two devices, according to a new study of media multitasking by Boston College researchers.

What’s more, the subjects were not even aware of their own actions. On average, participants in the study thought they might have looked back and forth between the two devices about 15 times per half hour. In reality, they were looking nearly 10 times as often. And even if quick “glances” less than 1.5 seconds are removed from the equation, people were still switching over 70 times per half hour.

Understanding the physical behavior of multi-media multitaskers raises questions about the level of comprehension among people who switch their eyes between the devices, specifically the impact on productivity or on children doing their homework.”


While the last article focused on “media multitasking”, it’s the science of what’s going that should help us understand why multitasking just doesn’t work when you require a high degree of qualitative outcome. As a complementary post, please see “Multitasking is a Myth” – why your team isn’t delivering results, as that what we’re seeing every day in the workplace. Multitasking negatively affects quality, employee motivation & costs (your bottom line).


Time Management; How to Reduce Stress & Get Back in Control

“We all have times when we think more effectively, and times when we should not be thinking at all.” — Daniel Cohen (children’s author)

Most experts today will agree that you can’t manage time. However, what you can manage is your “energy”. I started discussing this last summer and having just had a conversation with a new found friend last night on the subject, I thought it very relevant to bring it up again.

Just last week I had come across Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA blog article on the same subject, and therefore include below a short 2 minute clip which illustrates the point we’re talking about.

What are “Energy Cycles” & how can you put them to your advantage?

Your body has Energy Cycles; natural rhythms of energy during the day.. and whilst cheating your Energy Cycles (i.e. not sleeping, extra caffeine, etc.) can sound tempting.. however, ultimately it’s very unproductive!

Here are four ways to work with your body and not against it:

  1. Learn your patterns: keep a track of your energy during different parts of the day, and you’ll eventually see which are the best moments for you to work and rest.
  2. Maximize your peak cycles: plan your day in order to take advantage of the moments where you have the most energy.
  3. Take a break: When you’re in a down cycle, it’s better to rest than power through. Rest is not optional.
  4. Get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation results in a prolonged cycle, lowering your productivity.
Questions for Consideration:
  • When do you feel most energetic?
  • What times of the day work best to do certain kinds of work?
  • What do you do to manage your energy during the day?

Paying attention to your Energy Cycles and working accordingly, will help you get the most out of your time available.

Unemployment & The Toilet Cleaner… The right attitude gets you places!

I just read this AMAZING story in a LinkedIn group I actively contribute toward & thought you’d appreciate it!

Setting: An unemployed worker applies to Microsoft for the position of Janitor. After going through tests and interviews, the H.R. manager informs him that he is selected and requests his email address so he can send the employment contract and details of the day and time to start work. 🙂

The man is distraught and answers that he has no computer and therefore he has no email. The H.R. boss tells him that if he has no email address he virtually does not exist and therefore cannot hold a job! 😦

The man leaves in a desperate mood without knowing what to do, with his last $10 in his pocket. Finally he decides to go into a supermarket and to buy a 10 lb box of strawberries. He starts selling them door to door by the pound. He manages to double his capital in 2 hours. He repeats the deal 3 times more and goes home with $60 in his pocket. He comes to see that he can survive this way. He starts every day earlier and come home every day later. So he triples or quadruples his money every day.

A short time later he buys a wheel barrow, that he exchanges later into a truck and sooner or later he is the owner of a complete fleet of delivery truck…. 5 years go by….. The man is now the proud owner of one of the largest food chain stores in the U.S.A.!!

Now he starts thinking about the future for him and his family and decides to buy a life insurance policy. He calls an agent and selects a good policy. At the end of the negotiations, the agent asks him for his email address to send him a confirmation of the policy. The man tells him that he doesn’t have an email address!!! That’s strange says the agent, you have no email address and nevertheless you built this large empire. Can you imagine where would you be if you had an email address??

The man briefly thinks and answers: I would have been a toilet cleaner with the Microsoft Corporation!

  • Moral 1 of the story: The internet does not solve all the problems in our lives
  • Moral 2 of the story: When you have no email address but work hard you can be a millionaire
  • Moral 3 of the story: (improvised from the original by me) If you’ve received this story by email you are closer to a janitor than a millionaire, but if you’re read this story because you’re interested in learning & increasing your development & growth.. than you’re closer to being a millionaire than a janitor

Obviously this man was a close friend to Peixoto the Portuguese fisherman 😉

Engaged Teams = Productive Teams; How to get your team engaged in 45 days or less

I was recently reading a stat that boasted; “some research shows only 29% of North American employees are fully engaged. That’s a lot of productivity being left on the table.

I can guarantee you that this is not a US centric experience, as the stats (+/-5%) are consistent with what I’ve seen across the planet over the past +25 years… and it’s getting worse!

Add to this the following additional stats:

  • 36% of employees are looking for better work-life balance
  • 28% of employees expect to change jobs within the next 2 years
  • 30% of employees believe that their management is committed to improve engagement
  • 68% of employees report lacking meaning or purpose in the tasks / activities they carry-out on a daily basis
What does that spell?

Lacking of engagement on various levels, typically between daily activities / tasks vs. the successful outcome as it relates to company and personal objectives in life. This could spell out a more complicated journey depending on the multipliers & variables.

Basically as an employer you have to (1) understand how your stated company strategy, goals, projects & daily tasks align with your employees own goals in life / personal self-actualization, and (2) if your staff even have a 2-3 year life plan for themselves which they can tie back to the work their doing. Until you have a grasp on these two fundamental areas, you’re going to be in a perpetual tail-spin, with at-best momentary success stories, but nothing on the level of the consistency you need to succeed in the long run.

Who’s responsibility is it?

Engagement is a shared responsibility across an organization. It’s not just the responsibility of the manager, employee or even the company.

It’s a collaborative effort that requires everyone to participate.

Satisfaction is fickle.. Engagement is KING!

Do you remember those presents that you thought you’d never put down when you first opened them on Christmas morning? How long did that sensation last? 2-3 weeks at best? How about your last high-school romance? 2-3 months at best? Those sensations could be compared to employee satisfaction.

Now remember that rag doll or G.I. Joe action-figure that you could never put down? remember all the marvelous adventures you went on together throughout your entire childhood? Remember the ageless doll-house or your first car? remember the high-school sweetheart that you married? That’s engagement, and that what you should be measuring if you want to ensure productivity!

What are the Core Issues that destroy employee engagement
  • Alignment & clarity between personal tasks & relevance to company objectives
  • Lack of trust (employees in management / management in employees)
  • Focusing on risks instead of opportunities
What’s the solution?

The Work Engagement Profile by Ken Thomas clearly states intrinsic motivators which are made ever more critical by the growing number of remote workers, and or individuals who have greater autonomy & being asked to make more key decisions themselves.

The Work Engagement Profile states that engaged individuals have a:

  • Sense of meaningfulness / purpose
  • Sense of choice
  • Sense of confidence
  • Sense of progress
What’s the benefit for my organization?

I have typically seen a +80% engagement rate with 45 days, followed by a 30-40% increase in productivity within 60 from starting a continuos improvement project.

What about you?

Looking back at your own business, whether you’re a manager or an employee, can you see how issues are impacting the level of engagement in your work-place? How are they affecting productivity?

The Habits of Happiness from a Monk in Monterrey

Question.. How happy are you? Seriously.. on a scale of 1-10, a 10 being out of this planet euphoric, how happy are you?

August is dedicated to your development & growth, a key essential to personal & professional productivity.

At the end of this post you’ll find a 20 minute 2004 archive TED video featuring Matthieu Ricard. In order to inspire you to invest 20 minutes into your happiness, below I’ve included the highlights from his talk.

The Monk in Monterrey..

Consciously or not, directly or indirectly, in the short or the long term, whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream.. somehow, is related to a deep, profound desire for well-being or happiness

Our #1 priority..

If that’s true, then we can’t treat happiness as if it was just a secondary preoccupation in life. But now, if it is something that is going to determine the quality of every instant of our life, then we better know what it is, have some clearer idea.

Pleasure vs. Happiness..

Pleasure is contingent upon time, upon its object, upon the place. It is something that changes of nature. It sort of uses itself as you experience it. It’s something that is not radiating outside. You can feel intense pleasure.. and some others around you can be suffering a lot at the same time.

Happiness, of course, is such a vague word, so let’s say “well-being.” I think the best definition, according to the Buddhist view, is that well-being is not just a mere pleasurable sensation. It is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, a state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states and all the joys and sorrows that can come one’s way.

Looking inward..

In our quest for happiness, very often we look outside. We think that if we could gather this and that, all the conditions, but our control of the outer world is limited, temporary, and often, illusory.

The Dalai Lama was once in Portugal, and there was a lot of construction going on everywhere. So one evening he said, “Look, you are doing all these things, but isn’t it nice, also, to build something within? Even you get high-tech flat on the 100th floor of a super-modern and comfortable building, if you are deeply unhappy within, all you are going to look for is a window from which to jump.”

What’s really happening..

Usually, when we feel annoyed, hatred or upset with someone, or obsessed with something, the mind goes again and again to that object. Each time it goes to the object, it reinforces that obsession or that annoyance. So then, it’s a self-perpetuating process.

So what we need to look now is, instead of looking outward, we look inward. Look at anger itself; it looks very menacing, like a billowing monsoon cloud or thunder storm. But we think we could sit on the cloud, but if you go there, it’s just mist.

If you do this again and again, the propensity, the tendencies for anger to arise again will be less and less each time you dissolve it. And, at the end, although it may rise, it will just cross the mind, like a bird crossing the sky without leaving any track.

The principal of mind training..

Mind training is based on the idea that two opposite mental factors cannot happen at the same time. You could go from love to hate. But you cannot, at the same time, toward the same object, the same person, want to harm and want to do good. You cannot, in the same gesture, shake hand and give a blow.

No quick fixes when breaking old habits..

Now, it takes time because it took time for all those faults in our mind, the tendencies, to build up, so it will take time to unfold them as well. Mind transformation means familiarization with a new way of being, new way of perceiving things which is more an aligned with reality, with interdependence, with the stream and continuous transformation which our being and our consciousness is.


This is not just a luxury..

This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul; this is something that’s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most: the way our mind functions. Which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.

A final question..

What work are you ready to do in order to stop reacting to life, but rather train for a new form of happiness leading to greater personal & professional productivity?

4 Keys to Heightened Employee Engagement

“The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First and Watch ’em Kick Butt.” (Hal Rosenbluth) And once you’ve recognized the role your people play, keep in mind that “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” (Sam Walton of Walmart)

Jack Welch is noted for saying “The essence of competitiveness is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important – and then get out of their way while they do it.” And Peter Drucker (Business Guru, Author & Professor of Business) has affirmed that “Employees will only complain or make suggestions three times on the average without a response. After that they conclude that if they don’t keep quiet they will be thought to be troublemakers or that management doesn’t care.”

These 4 quotes are evidenced in every successful company that can claim to have heightened employee engagement.

The four keys that enable these quotes to come to fruition are;

1. Clear set of Core Values

Ensuring that most of your employees know, understand and are aligned with the (core values) rules of engagement with both internal & external customers when representing your company is the corner-stone to success.

2. Transparent and Consistent Communication

Regularly measuring customer satisfaction, continuously measuring quality and regularly sharing these quality metrics with your employees will guarantee their participation in perfecting your results and projecting your company forward.

3. Objective & Periodic Performance Appraisals

It’s not enough to do it once per year if you want to grow at a rapid & agile pace. At minimum you should formally provide objective feedback every six months, and ideally you’re doing this every quarter.. mixing up Top-Down and 360º reviews.

The best-companies-to-work-for typically have a performance measurement practice that gives employees a real-time assessment of their performance & productive contribution on an ongoing fashion that requires minimal management intervention through the use of tools like WorkMeter.

4. Continual Development & Growth

What are the company-sponsored opportunities for personal and professional development & growth you’ve given your teams within the last twelve months? We said at the outset that “Put Your People First and Watch ’em Kick Butt”. Give your people the skills to outperform and they will do just that.. taking you along for the ride, outperforming your competitors, and ensuring that your customers continue to do business with you.