A Tragic Story on Multitasking

A Tragic Story on Multitasking

Posted on April 7, 2011


I came across a tweet recently about a post called “Multitasking – Public Enemy #1” . This tweet reminded me of the story that I made up which I frequently used to tell my project team members. A story of a project manager who gets into trouble because of his team members’ multitasking.

The Story

Once upon a time there was a project manager who wanted to take his team to Disney World in Orlando for JAD session. Since his team is virtual, he schedules a tele conference call for the next week. The subject of the meeting is sent as “JAD session in Disney World, Orlando- let’s decide on the date”.

A day before the meeting, he sends out an agenda with the possible dates and the logistics for the JAD session. The team is comprised of 10 and everyone attends the meeting. After the role call, the project manager states the purpose of the conference call as a brainstorming session to decide on the date for the JAD session in Disney World, Orlando.

Studies have revealed that only 1 in 10 read the agenda. So, the news is a surprise for 9 of the team members. 2 of these team members have multiple concerns with either the idea of travel or the choice of destination. So, they immediately start instant messaging their team members. Instant Messages start flying around which go on like these..

Where is the budget for the travel?
Who will take care of my fish?
Why Orlando?

4 out of 10 team members are lost to multitasking thanks to Instant Messenger.

2 other team members open up their browsers and start checking out the fun activities that you can do in Orlando.

2 team members receive an email notification that distracts them and they get disengaged from the meeting.

So, all in all 8 out of 10 multitask and fail to follow the ensuing discussion. Only 2 participate and the date is decided. After the meeting, the PM receives many questions from the multitasking team members regarding the logistics, the date and the reasoning behind the venue, date and the purpose. All of these items were part of the agenda and were discussed by the PM and 2 of the 10 engaged team members.

Because of all the ensuing discussions and arguments, the JAD session preparation becomes time consuming and the JAD session gets called off. So, the PM fails at a simple task of bringing the team to a JAD session.

Moral of the Story

Moral of the story is that multitasking makes even a simple task difficult and sometimes impossible.

The reason of me telling this story was to keep my team engaged and to show case the problems that multitasking may cause.

I know this story is exaggerated but I am sure that simple tasks become difficult because of the incessant multitasking.

Takeaways from this story:

  1. No matter how interesting the topic of discussion, there will be folks who can get distracted. So, plan for it.
  2. Turn Off Email Notifications. Saves a bunch of time. Check my earlier post on this
  3. If it is not a Live Meeting, turn off the monitor when you are in a conference call so that you can focus.
  4. Change the status of your Instant Messenger to “Do Not Disturb” so that no one can interrupt you.

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  • Reply Greg Githens April 8, 2011 at 6:00 am

    I think there is a difference between multitasking and impulsiveness. I wonder if these people thought they were good at multitasking, and that contributed to them following up on distractions?

    • Reply Shakeel Akhtar April 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Yes Greg, you are right. These folks were more impulsive than intentional. There are some meetings that I mark as multitasking and so the intent is set to multitask right from the beginning. In this case it was not. Thanks for bringing out that distinction.
      On second thoughts, the story should be renamed to say Tragic story of distractions.

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