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Even Simple Multi-tasking Can Make a Project 30% Late

The Theory of Constraints blog has an interesting article on the damaging effects of multi-tasking.  In a project setting, it’s easy to get distracted and try and complete multiple tasks instead of just working on one. This article argues that multi-tasking is not only a bad mindset to have, but it can actually make projects up to 30% late, with only one instance of multi-tasking going on.


When multi-tasking happens, your brain has to mentally go back to the beginning and let your mind catch up to the beginning of the last task you did.

Multi-tasking is the act of stopping a task before it is completed and shifting to something else; in software development the term “thrashing” is often used to describe this practice. When a task is stopped and started there is the immediate effect of a loss of efficiency. Each time a person has to re-start a task, time is required to become re-familiarized with the work and get re-set in where he was in the process. It is very much like the physical set-ups done on a machine in production. Each time you tear down a machine to do another task, you have to set it up to run the part again.

Don’t Break Your Attention- Make a Digital Dumper

While working on projects, it’s quite easy to get distracted by little details that may crop up in the development process.  However, if you can fight the urge to work on them and instead put each detail into some sort of bucket, you’ll keep your train of thought on track longer, upping productivity tenfold. I use iGTD (mac only) as my digital “dumper”, but any sort of collection bucket (digital or paper) will suffice.

So let’s review: Instead of doing many things at once (thinly-veiled in the name of Productivity), focus your attention on one task at a time, which in the long run will allow you to do more.

It’s like the tortoise and the hare parable, except for desk monkeys.