In the modern world, multitasking is common and everyone thinks they’re good at it. You’re able to frequently switch between a variety of tasks without getting distracted or slowing down, right?

Not so fast.

In reality, multitasking has a huge negative impact on your productivity. To demonstrate the problem, get your team to join you in this simple game.

Thanks to TopLeft customer Steve Psaradellis for sharing this resource.

The Game

Consider the tasks you do throughout the day. A task is a unit of work you can start and has a clear finishing point. Everyone in your team works on a series of tasks every day. What’s more effective- working on one task from start to finish before starting another task, or working on multiple tasks at the same time?

Choose two people for the game:

  1. The player
  2. The timekeeper with a stopwatch

The timekeeper explains the exercises and times the player as he or she completes three exercises:

Count to 10

  1. Timekeeper asks the player- “Can you count to 10 in a loud, clear voice?”
  2. Timekeeper starts a countdown- 3, 2, 1, and starts the stopwatch
  3. Player counts 1 to 10 as fast as possible
  4. When the player has counted to 10, timekeeper stops the stopwatch and writes the time on a whiteboard

Recite alphabet to J

  1. Timekeeper asks the player- “Can you recite the alphabet from A to J?”
  2. Timekeeper starts a countdown- 3, 2, 1, and starts the stopwatch
  3. Player recites A to J as fast as possible
  4. When the player is done, timekeeper stops the stopwatch and writes the time on a whiteboard

Alternate counting numbers and reciting the alphabet

  1. Timekeeper explains to the player- alternate letters and numbers while counting to 10 and reciting the alphabet to J. For example, “A, 1, B, 2” and so on. The player cannot use any aids such as fingers or paper.
  2. Timekeeper starts a countdown- 3, 2, 1, and starts the stopwatch
  3. Player recites the sequence. Here it is for the timekeeper’s reference: “A, 1, B, 2, C, 3, D, 4, E, 5, F, 6, G, 7, H, 8, I, 9, J, 10”. Don’t interrupt even if the player makes a mistake. Let them be confused, muddle around, make a mistake, or give up.
  4. When the player is done correctly, the timekeeper stops the stopwatch and writes the time on a whiteboard. If the player finishes but made a mistake, make them do it again!

Most players won’t be able to recite the sequence correctly on the first try, or even with any number of tries. Even if they do complete it, it will take substantially longer than the combined time of reciting each sequence separately.

Repeat the game with a new player and timekeeper. Enjoy a bit of fun competition!

Compare the time it took for the first two exercises with the time required to correctly do the third exercise. In your team, discuss what that indicates for multitasking in daily work.

What’s the Point?

If you can’t successfully multitask with such a simple exercise, do you really think you’re able to manage switching between complex tasks throughout the day? Don’t bet on it. The human brain has limitations. You and your team will be much more effective if you work within those limitations instead of pretending multitasking isn’t a problem. It’s much better to choose a task, start it, work it to completion, and then find the next task to do.

Unfortunately, PSA tools such as ConnectWise Manage and Datto Autotask PSA don’t make this very easy. Their way of visualizing tickets, tasks, and projects is very basic- usually just a simple report showing all the work and leaving the sorting and filtering up to you. It’s easy to get distracted with multiple tickets at once, to be unclear about what’s the most important work that needs to be prioritized right now, or to miscommunicate in your team about the status and priority of the work.

That’s why TopLeft built Kanban boards for ConnectWise and Autotask. Kanban tools and practices help busy IT teams stay focused. Kanban boards make it easy to see the work you’ve already started, so you can focus on finishing work before starting new work- minimizing multi-tasking and improving your team productivity, improving communication, and identifying neglected work and bottlenecks. Ready to see it in action? Schedule a demo.

Further Reading