The Hidden Costs to Multitasking

I was talking to someone on staff recently. This person was accepting more roles in the organization that were out of her job description. I appreciated her for her willingness to serve, but asked her why she did this when she clearly had other tasks to accomplish.

The response: “It doesn’t take that much time anyway.”

Is it just me or does she have MASSIVE hands? Click pic for source
Is it just me or does she have MASSIVE hands? Click pic for source

Many of us have the same perspective. I know I use that reasoning a lot. Multitasking is fun and there’s the added rush whenever we do something new. But there are a lot of hidden costs that we don’t see.

  • Opportunity Cost – Defined as “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” It might have only taken her an hour to do the side project, but that was one hour that could have been spent doing a number of other things – improving at her job, deepening relationships, praying, reading, etc. Instead it was spent doing a task that could have been done by others and was giving minimal growth.
  • Focus Cost – Pretty obvious – the shifting from one task to another, while energizing, costs us in focus. If you’ve ever tried to develop two messages at the same time, you know this feeling. If you find yourself opening dozens of tabs while browsing, without finishing your business on any one of them, you feel this too. The side project actually took more than one hour if you factor in the time lost changing tasks, reorienting yourself, and taking the energy to start again.
  • Momentum Cost – A series of broken activities will never be equal to one sustained activity in the same direction. Taking one hour for the side project wasn’t just costing that one hour. It cost how much more effective this person would have been at work if the work had been continuous, building up more and more momentum producing lasting growth and success.

So as much as we love to multitask, we must be aware of its hidden costs. Factor them in, and focus on your work.

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