Lean Engineering and the myth of multitasking

Chris HOHMANN

Multitasking is a praised ability in a world needing constant adjustments. Critics challenge the ability of humans to multitask, while others still believe in and praise it.

I know for long time now that I am no good at multitasking and felt somewhat ungifted until the day I attended a training session in which an experiment settled the case.

Experimenting mono and multitasking performances

The experiment is made of a series of simple single tasks, each having an equal number of elementary operations, such as adding 1 to the previous number, list a series of odd or even numbers, write the letters of the alphabet, etc.

In order to compare the performance between mono and multitasking, the time to complete all task is measured as well as the number of errors.

The first test is done in mono tasking mode, which means the tester does all the basic operations of the task # 1 , then passes to the successive elementary operations of Task No. 2, and so on.
The stopwatch is stopped at the last step of the last task.

The second test is performed in multitasking mode: the timer is triggered then the candidate performs the first elementary operation of the task # 1 , then goes to the first elementary operation of the task # 2 and so on. The stopwatch is stopped at the last step of the last task.

Test results

Compared performances

 Time in
seconds
Total time
monotasking
Total time
multitasking
Rate
multi/mono
Task 1 16
163
10
Task 2
35
170
5
Task 3
60
176
3
Task 4
77
155
2
TOTAL
190
665
3,5

Besides, multitasking led to many errors even the operations were very simple, elementary.

Accepted disturbances

Accepted disturbances are commonplace in our work environment; interruption by unexpected arrival of a visitor, a conversation initiated by a colleague, request for a superior or question from a subordinate, the phone ringing , incoming e -mail , etc.

To add to these, many persons keep checking their smartphone for incoming tweets or e-mail, the sound signal, when activated, irresistibly attracts attention and distracts form probably more valuable occupation.

All these disturbances are derivatives mobilizing our attention and mental capacity. This constant zapping causes the same effects as those described in the experiment; loss of time, deterioration of quality and over consumption of our energy.

Lean Engineering

Striving for Leanness in engineering means striving for efficiency. Accepting being disturbed believing multitasking is an efficient approach to good work is nonsense. All these task switching are just like handoffs in a production line: waste.

————–

To learn more about bad distracting habits, read “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time ” ( Harvard Business Review Blog ) post from Tony Schwartz

You may experiment by yourself online with a >simple game<

And watch this video

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