Multitasking, Switchtasking, Background Tasking or Hypertasking

Multitasking, Switchtasking, Background Tasking or Hypertasking

Multitasking, Switchtasking, Background Tasking, or Hypertasking. Which are you guilty of?
Do you work at a company that still uses multitasker as a quality that they want in an employee?
Do you have a hard time focusing on one task at a time or feel constantly pulled in multiple directions?


Only two percent of people can multitask effectively, and chances are, you aren't one of them. As people learn more about the decreased productivity contributed to multitasking, we can only hope it becomes more culturally unacceptable behavior. Multitasking can reduce productivity by up to forty percent. I’m not suggesting to never multitask (I'm human and if you're reading this, you are too), but remember that if you are truly trying to learn something, you need to have 100% attention. I have several clients in Human Resources. I tell them that if their job descriptions still require multitasking skills, they are basically saying their company doesn’t know current research and is really looking for someone that takes 30-40% longer to complete a task.

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Background Tasking

Not all types of tasking are bad and can sometimes even be beneficial. Background tasking can be efficient and make time go faster when you need a distraction. Examples of background tasking are watching TV while exercising or listening to the radio while driving. Studies have shown that certain types of music can make people exercise harder. Personally, I catch up on podcasts while I’m cooking, cleaning, and exercising.


Hypertasking is when work multitasking gets carried over into your personal life. This could be talking on the phone while driving (equivalent to driving drunk) or working on a laptop while drinking coffee and talking to a friend. My girlfriend and I used to do this all the time. We would meet for lunch once a month at a coffee shop and spend two hours talking, eating, drinking coffee, and working a little. We used it as collaborative time and to bounce ideas off of each other, as well as the normal office talkie-talk we didn't get from working remotely. Did we get more done than if we were at home? Absolutely not. It was more for social engagement than for work, and we could and did stop talking when the other person was looking at their computer.


Switchtasking is juggling two tasks by refocusing attention back and forth and losing time and progress in the switch. Switch-tasking is the biggest problem for most people. We are switchtasking more than we multitask because we can do it at such speed. We are under the illusion we are doing things simultaneously, but in reality, we aren’t. If it’s something that involves the same part of the brain, like writing an email and talking on the phone, you can’t do them at the same time. The average person spends three minutes working on something before they switchtask. Have you ever been able to tell when someone you are talking to on the phone isn't quite 100% listening to you? Their tone changes and there's usually a pause before their response. I've asked people if they want me to call them back after they're done reading their email. This usually gets their attention. The biggest switchtasking culprit is definitely email.

What multitasking behavior you would like to stop?

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During my second year in the field of business travel, we moved from Capital Hill to Raleigh, North Carolina. I glanced at my itinerary and realized that I didn’t need to arrive at the airport at 8:00am — my plane departed at 8:00am! It was 7:05am and we lived 12 minutes from the airport. In a panic, I jumped in the car, no joy for me in knowing that if I missed my flight because I was late, my company would make me pay the difference to reschedule the flight. I could only hope it was a day that the line through security was easy.



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