If we were not convinced already, a study conducted by researchers from the Stanford University (see here) concluded that people who engage in a number of simultaneous activities are not able to achieve the same level of effective attention or control as the ones who complete their tasks, one task at a time. The research showed that one of the reasons multitaskers achieve lower productivity is because they tend to waste productive energy on unproductive, unimportant or irrelevant information.
The Theory Of Constraints has long argued that multitasking leads to not only inefficient use of project resources, but also ends up in longer delivery times due to the overheads associated with dropping off and subsequently picking up project tasks. The Stanford research adds another dimension to this point, as it highlights the fact that people who are naturally inclined to multitask would also have a tendency to focus their attention of the less than important things thus further exacerbating the multitasking affect.
Although I fully agree with the consequences of the multitasking syndrome I can’t see how it would be possible to completely avoid multitasking in projects. Quite often, during project life, I need to call on the help of shared IT resources, like Database Administrators and others, to assist in various infrastructure activities. These resources, coming from a shared resources pool, are quite often required to support a number of projects at any one time, and as such are being asked to look after the urgent needs of multiple projects.
The bottom line is that, as much as possible, multitasking needs to be minimized as it’s negative impacts are proven beyond doubt. This also means (just in case you’re not sure) that time wasting activities, including social networking, constant e-mail checking and all other facebook twitting endevours are to be avoided as they will surely impact your team’s performance.