We all know it's bad, and yet many of us are stuck in a mode of trying to get too many things done at once. Times are tough, right? We just have to dog deep and get things done, right?
Take a breath and brace yourself. (And in the interests of your time efficiency I'll keep this short.)
An experiment was run observing people's ability to multi task procurement work for complex systems. This is roughly equivalent to managing the handover of requirements to a vendor or internal development team.
People were observed working on 1, 5, 10 and 20 concurrent initiatives.
Here's the lowdown;
- If you worked on 5 activities instead of 1 you increased your effort per job by 64%
- If you worked on 10 activities you increased your effort by 126%
- If you worked on 20 activities you increased your effort by 240%
And that's just to get the work order (aka specifications) shipped. Once you get a response the effort per task becomes even more complicated.
- 5 activities instead of 1 you increased your effort per job by 195%
- 10 activities you increased your effort by 283%
- 20 activities you increased your effort by 476%
Let me draw you a picture. Imagine the bars are project staff levels. What would you do?
The paper I got these figures from is full of further information including statistical discussion, an explanation of the methodology and so on. Check it out;
- Jan A. Elfving and Iris D. Tommelein (2003) "Impact of Multitasking and merge bias on procurement of complex equipment"