In a recent New York Times Op Ed piece, Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, journalist and computer scientist respectively, reveal one of the most pervasive workplace myths that constantly sets in-house creatives up to fail – multitasking. No one can actually perform two tasks simultaneously; try writing an email at the same time you’re working on a layout for a new brochure. It ain’t gonna happen.
What does happen is what Sullivan and Thompson describe as “rapid toggling between tasks”. They go on to note that with any switch between activities, there is a cost. In the case of creating design and written deliverables, there is often a negative impact on the quality of whatever is being worked on as well as how long it takes to complete the multiple activities. Any creative who was in the state of flow on a design or copywriting project who is then interrupted by a call, IM, email, emergency meeting etc., knows just how disruptive multitasking can be.
So the next time you or your team are encouraged to multitask to increase efficiency, or you’ve included “must be able to multitask” when creating a recruiting ad or you’ve added “ability to multitask” on a performance review, think twice – without answering an email in between.