Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Multitasking impedes efficiency

An October 2001 study in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" reports that the brain takes extra time "switching gears" when we switch tasks. So Samuel Smiles was right:

"The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at once."

People who believe they accomplish more by multitasking may just be tricking themselves by getting the false impression of efficiency from the fact that they completed several tasks. But they probably could have completed all the tasks in a shorter period of time if they had concentrated on one at a time.

Microsoft suggests several multitasking problems. Among them:

  • Interruptions plague longer-term tasks. They hamper concentration and task progress. Users often can't determine which interruptions to handle immediately. This makes it difficult for users to maintain current task flow.
  • People often set aside tasks while waiting for something like an email to arrive or even a phone call.
  • People have trouble getting back on task after shifting their attention away.

Multitasking problems have even crept into churches. For example, one pastor had a habit of shouting over the last hymn as we closed the worship service. But paying attention to his words meant paying less attention to the words of the hymn. If a hymn is important enough to sing, it is important enough to concentrate on. We should pay more attention to the words (text message) of hymns, not less.

Even church staff members need to focus on one task at a time as much as possible. Acting against that goal are an always-open email program or email notifier, an open instant messenger (IM), Constant visitors, phone calls, etc. So help your church staff focus. Help lessen interruptions to their tasks and they'll get more done in the same amount of time.

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