multitasking agile project management

The Dangers of Multitasking

Hi, my name is Emma and I am a multitasker. I am literally a great juggler. Both of small colourful balls, and of larger project crises features. I have always been dexterous at handling outcomes in dynamic environments, but it wasn’t until I became truly Agile that I realised the potential cognitive repercussions.

I recently worked with a company to guide them through the implementation of Agile frameworks into their business model. It was extraordinary to notice the pushback from people who loved being involved in multiple things simultaneously. They were, it seems, addicted to busy!

Our Addiction to Multitasking

When we ‘successfully’ multitask it triggers our brains to release the neurohormone, dopamine, rewarding us chemically. You’re filled with a sense of happiness and achievement (You’re actually a little high!). Naturally you want more of that which triggers another bout of multitasking in search of the next hit. Unfortunately this cycle of search & reward encourages some serious optimism bias and the team perceives they are much more productive than they actually are.

It is common knowledge among productivity aficionados that multitasking is not the masterful juggling act we like to think, but rather an elegant name for doing many things badly. From a scientific perspective, we are squandering our valuable resources of time, productivity, and long term cognitive abilities. In fact, researcher David Meyer has estimated that the time cost alone of task switching can be up to 40% of an individual’s productive time.

Research has also increasingly demonstrated that multitasking is not only inefficient, it is also reducing your efficacy in moments when you are not multitasking. Wait, WHAT? According to Stanford University’s Eyal Ophir, heavy multitaskers continually underperform their peers “They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing.” he said. Still keen on your circus act?

How to Monotask

While Agile practices explicitly condemn multitasking (See: Start Less. Finish More), yet knowing we are all conditioned for our position, how do we reprogram our monkey minds to monotask?

  1. Learn the Art of Business Communication. This one’s a doozy and deserves it’s own post. In a nutshell: Respect your colleagues time by appropriately using email, phone calls and meetings to minimise interruptions. That means that you AND they are able to focus on only the most important task and the team as a whole is more productive.
  2. Smile. A lot. I’m not kidding! A smile sends a signal to your brain to release serotonin and dopamine. You and your team will feel good, and be in the optimal state for productivity. A relaxed and happy team are going to bring a much higher quality product than a team that runs on caffeine and cortisol!
  3. Celebrate Your Accomplishments. Make the Retrospective or Showcase FUN. That means smiling, clapping, and encouraging your teammates so that the whole team experiences the reward of completion. The more dopamine flowing here, the higher the drive to repeat the experience of finishing tasks.

It’s time to get in the game and prioritise monotasking. With gains to be made in productivity and stress management, it’s a win-win situation. And so, it seems that in the quest for better, faster, stronger, that once again simplicity reigns supreme!

Articles referenced:,-New-Studies-Suggest-2102500909-p-1.html

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About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.