The Real Harm in Multitasking (Dr. Travis Bradberry)


You’ve likely heard that multitasking is problematic, but new studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

A Special Skill?

But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch.

Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Multitasking Lowers IQ

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

So the next time you’re writing your boss an email during a meeting, remember that your cognitive capacity is being diminished to the point that you might as well let an 8-year-old write it for you.

Brain Damage From Multitasking

It was long believed that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but new research suggests otherwise. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

While more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask), it’s clear that multitasking has negative effects. Neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh, the study’s lead author, explained the implications: “I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

Learning From Multitasking

If you’re prone to multitasking, this is not a habit you’ll want to indulge—it clearly slows you down and decreases the quality of your work. Even if it doesn’t cause brain damage, allowing yourself to multitask will fuel any existing difficulties you have with concentration, organization, and attention to detail.

Multitasking in meetings and other social settings indicates low Self- and Social Awareness, two emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that are critical to success at work. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers have high EQs. If multitasking does indeed damage the anterior cingulate cortex (a key brain region for EQ) as current research suggests, it will lower your EQ in the process.

So every time you multitask you aren’t just harming your performance in the moment; you may very well be damaging an area of your brain that’s critical to your future success at work.Real Harm in Multitasking


11 ways for HR leaders to command respect of business? By – Rameswaran Chandrasekaran

Although HR leaders add immense value to mainstream business, they fail to command the respect of the business

How many times we have seen HR adding significant value to mainstream business? Still, the talks at water coolers are generally HR related jokes. Some of them have good knowledge about the business but that is just not sufficient to earn the respect of business. Unfortunately, they are seen in action mainly on few occasions like retrenchment and employee strikes. Both top management and HR professionals themselves are to be blamed equally for the status HR has got in many organizations.

Therefore, what should HR do to command respect from the business (which however few of them receive in abundance)?

People first, everything else is second. As a first step, HR must be staffed by people with credible line function (like sales, production, project delivery, supply chain management) achievements who are subsequently trained on HR. They know the difficulty in achieving numbers and while managing their teams they would have done on the job “real” human resources development. (I have seen in a midsized IT company, a line manager shining as HR head but this kind of examples is unfortunately rare).

Once HR is staffed with line experienced executives, what should they do to command the respect of the business on a sustained basis?

Assignment model: Periodically, HR professionals should take up assignments in various functional areas on a full-time or part-time basis and could also specialize in a certain functional area through these assignments. This collaborative model would help them to get overall experience of the business and truly test cross pollination of ideas and subsequently prepare them for higher responsibilities.

I could quote an example from my own experience. During my earlier years, as a sales manager, I was reporting to head of sales and marketing of a particular business, in a highly profit making Indian diversified group employing around 15000 employees then. I used to always think that this assertive and intelligent sales head should have started his career as sales professional. To my surprise, later I understood that he had spent more than a decade of his initial career in HR and rose to the position of handling national HR responsibility, in his previous organizations. This demonstrates the possibility of how professionals, primarily from HR back ground, can shine in senior mainstream roles.

Interestingly in nationalized banks, majority of the middle and senior layers are rotated across major banking functions like Advances, Deposits, HR and Accounts in their career. Therefore, when some of these executives move into HR, they would already have gained experience in other functions. This practice is in vogue for decades in this part of corporate world. However, sadly this is not being widely followed in other industries.

Leadership bench: Whenever business wants to toss the views and brainstorm any major business challenge, HR leaders should become the first option. They should proactively don the role of internal consultants to business. They should aim to graduate to “Consulting” function from the present “Staff” function. Line experienced HR (LEHR) professionals can contribute directly to business by providing unbiased opinions on important decisions like new product launches and location of the new plant. In fact, they should be able to fill up any senior position in short notice, if required. HR should become the leadership bench for the entire organization.

In the above mentioned previous organization, I had an opportunity to gain the insights of a senior HR professional, on few strategic challenges. He could have definitely assumed a bigger cross functional role over time but for he leaving the organization prematurely.

Owning top managers: Battle-hardened LEHR should own the responsibility of top managers along with their line managers in terms of their development, rewards and advancement. One worthy example to look for is from the times of legendary Jack Welch (Fortune described him as “Perhaps the most admired CEO of his generation”). He and his HR head Bill Conaty in General Electric were personally responsible for 750 managers.

Succession planning: Even in many presently successful companies, this is not given its due importance may be because the KPIs for measuring the financial loss of not seriously undertaking this activity are not being followed up by top management. Therefore, this is a perfect area for LEHR to show their mettle and make differences to the organizations. Since they are common to all functions, there are fewer chances that they would have vested interests coming in their way while planning successions. The ability to judge and pick suitable persons comes to those experienced in its pursuit.

360 degree appraisal: In India, very few companies like Bank of America and some IT firms practice it in spirit. Many colleges and even schools undertake 360 degree appraisal of their teachers for long time but not corporates, ironically (T.A.Pai Institute of Management (TAPMI), Manipal, Karnataka has been evaluating their teaching team by their students as part of the appraisal system since early nineties).

Pushing matured practices like 360 degree appraisal and preparing ground for its execution would be another worthy challenge for new age LEHR, which would force many managers and leaders to perform better, apart from creating healthy working atmosphere.

Mentoring: Hindustan Unilever’s HR department has brought the practice of mentoring to its real meaning over the years and it is an important KPI for mentors across the company in their yearly appraisal. HUL’s senior HR executives have graduated to international HR roles unlike in many other Indian arms of MNCs. We can believe that LEHR would be able to execute this best practice than the traditional HR.

Appraisals: A large percentage of line managers struggle in doing balanced appraisals for reasons like lack of maturity and training, unfounded fear of attrition and personal bias. This is an ideal area where LEHR can be of immense helpful to business.

People decisions: This author had witnessed how HR had fumbled in taking action on a totally incompetent highly paid senior manager who was deteriorating the entire atmosphere of an important project in a health care multinational for more than two years, to quote a case. A matured LEHR would have definitely taken a quick action. The point is HR should be able identify bottom raters and have the guts to decide on them.

Playing umpires: Tensions between departments and seniors are common in corporate life. LEHR is ideally placed to resolve them because they are neutral and have rich cross functional experience.

Value promoter: Since HR is a horizontal, LEHR could play stellar role in supporting CEOs by promoting organization wide common goals like fostering the desired culture, bringing in meritocracy and so on, far better than traditional HR.

Recognizing HR: Key inputs for the appraisals of HR team should be from them with whom HR have worked in that year and top performers should be published to reiterate that HR is facilitating business. Asking for too much from HR? The organizations that truly believe in excellence can build these kind of HR teams and have them as competitive advantage in their armor.

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