Multitasking: A Yearly $450 Billion Productivity Drain?

Aug. 30, 2013
A new report examines how eliminating multitasking in 45 large organizations affected productivity.

Multitasking, a practice most app-minded consumers like to brag about, actually costs the global economy more than $450 billion in lost productivity, according to a report from Realization, providers of flow-based planning and execution systems.

The report, “The Effects of Multitasking on Organizations,” states that people who attempt to multitask suffer a wide array of negative effects, from wasting 40 percent of their productive time switching tasks to experiencing a heightened susceptibility to distraction. Organizational multitasking occurs when a group is focused on too many things and its overall capacity is adversely affected. The end results, according to the report’s authors, are delays and interruptions, reduced quality and rework, peaks and valleys in workflow and lack of proper preparation before tasks and projects.

The researchers studied 45 organizations with between 1,000 and 50,000 employees with an average annual revenue of more than $1 billion from a diverse range of industries – including automotive, aerospace and defense, aviation, energy, semiconductors, software and pharmaceuticals – that consciously implemented measures to reduce multitasking in their organizations.

As a result, the mean increase in throughput was 59.8 percent, while the median increase was 38.2 percent. In addition, organizations finished projects faster after organizational multitasking had been reduced. The mean cycle-time reduction was 35.5 percent, while the median cycle-time reduction was 31 percent.

Globally, the study estimates that the economy annually loses $450 billion in productivity due to organizational multitasking.

“Our study clearly demonstrates the massive impact that organizational multitasking is having in many different industries, and the real tragedy is that most of the organizations that suffer from it don’t even realize that it’s happening,” said Sanjeev Gupta, CEO of Realization. “Everyone appears to be working very hard, but in fact, they are spending a lot of their time simply spinning their wheels, switching from task to task, without ever having the time to finish something before another ‘urgent’ item is put on their plate. Organizational multitasking can be addressed, but first, managers have to recognize the problem.”

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