Organizational Performance Part 38: Understanding the Effects of Multitasking | Operational Excellence Quick Hits
Quick Hits share weekly tips and techniques on topics related to Operational Excellence. This week’s theme relates to how multitasking impacts work performance. We hope you enjoy the information presented!
Speaker 1: (00:06)
In this session, we’re going to talk about the underlying assumptions about some of the myths that I see in companies, and the one we’re going to talk about today is multitasking. The assumption is that productive employees are employees that are good multitaskers. A lot of times I see, even companies advertise for new employees, and one of the requirements is you must be a good multitasker. So, first of all, I want to define what we’re talking about for multitasking.
Speaker 1: (00:37)
If we look at the definition in the dictionary, they define multitasking as performing multiple tasks at one time. So, we’re not talking about this where I might be interviewing somebody and while I’m listening to that person and asking questions, I’m taking notes at the same time. That’s not the type of multitasking we’re talking about. We’re talking more about tasks switching. So our definition of multitasking is stopping work on one task and switching to a second task before completing the first task. So, when you’re in your daily work environment and you’re working on something and you get a text message and you stop what you’re doing to address the text message. Or you get a notification that you have an email, or you get a phone call and you have to stop what you’re doing to go do something else, and that distracts you from completing the task that you’re working on. That’s the type of multitasking we’re speaking about here.
Speaker 1: (01:37)
To demonstrate the effects of that, we have a game, what we call the Confetti Game. This Confetti Game consists of three different rounds, and the purpose is to understand the effects of task switching or what we call multitasking. So, there’s two projects. There’s a yellow project and a green project so there’s two colored pieces of paper that you’re going to rip into pieces of confetti. And each project consists of ripping the paper into strips and then ripping those strips into individual pieces. In each round we explore different methods for managing work and the effects of the various methods. Each round we measure performance, so, of course, we want to see what is the performance difference when we’re task switching and multitasking and when we’re not and we’re focused.
Speaker 1: (02:30)
There’s two things we’re going to measure. The first one is the time to complete the work. And that’s comprised of two elements: the average time and the variation in times, but be we’ll usually run it in a group with multiple people. And then next is the first pass quality, so how many people get the correct number of pieces when they follow the instructions. So, what it looks like is this, where you have a colored paper and you start out by ripping the paper into strips. If you make four rips in the length, then you take each strip individually and rip it five times to get six pieces. And in the first round, you can’t combine strips, but we’re going to force you to switch tasks as you get started. And just like your daily work environment, you get interrupted and you have to go do something else.
Speaker 1: (03:24)
So, you start with the yellow paper. You make three rips, ripping in this configuration. Then when you finish the three rips, you’re going to switch to the green paper. You’re going to make three rips in the green paper and then switch back to the yellow paper. And you’re going to alternate between yellow and green, making rips until you complete all the rips. And when they’re done, we have them record the time. And then after they record their time, we count the number of pieces.
Speaker 1: (03:52)
So, I have a video that demonstrates this. I’ll show a short clip of the video of how this ripping exercise works.
Speaker 2: (04:02)
You should have a piece of yellow and piece of green in front of you. Okay? So, starting with the yellow paper, what you’re going to do is you’re going to make three rips. Okay? Then, it’s like the boss is, “Oh, switch to the other project,” so I pick up the green project and I make three rips. Right? Then he says, “Oh, go back to yellow project,” right, so I go back to the yellow project. Make three rips. So, now I got my four, my five strips. Make my three rips and then switch back to the green. You just keep alternating three rips, ripping in that pattern. Okay. You can’t combine strips, right, so the process is rip each one individually.
Speaker 1: (04:52)
So, the first round, we have the people multitask, so they make three rips, then switch colors, make three rips, switch colors. And you can see with 14 participants in this game, their average time was 3.21 minutes, their range was 2.83, and only three people got the correct color, so their first pass quality was 11%. So you can see the distribution here, the histogram, where one person had a completion of about 2.05, and there was a person that took almost five minutes. And you can see the average was about 3.21, so it was in this range right here because you had two outliers in the process.
Speaker 1: (05:41)
Then we switched it up and said, “Okay, round two. You’re not allowed to multitask. You’re going to focus. You’re going to complete all the yellow project. When you complete the yellow project, you’re going to switch and complete and start ripping the green project and complete the green project.” And here’s the results. So, the average time went from 3.21 to 1.88. And the range almost cut by two thirds, from 2.83 to one minute, and the first pass quality went up to 86% so you can see the impact here in improvement just by not multitasking.
Speaker 1: (06:19)
And then, round three, we asked people for improvement ideas and they come up with some improvement ideas to reduce the number of rips. So, the most common one is they combine the strips after they rip the individual pieces and perform the task again by not multitasking and focusing. And you can see the average time went to 1.08, the range, 0.33, and a hundred percent first pass quality. So you see the distribution here gets narrower and shifts to the left, so this last round was extremely stable and extremely predictable with low variation between [inaudible 00:06:58].
Speaker 1: (06:59)
So, that’s the impact of multitasking on a business when we have people that are multitasking, productivity suffers greatly, and the quality also suffers greatly. So you can see if we didn’t multitask with the process improvements, it’s 3X the productivity plus the quality improvement, so you’re talking maybe 4X improvement in productivity.
Speaker 1: (07:29)
Next session, we’re going to talk about the next myth and discuss the evidence that we have, the support, the next myth in our list.