When Multitasking Does More Harm, than Good

Early in our careers, we’re told that in order to achieve success, we had to master the art of multitasking. But, here’s the truth about what’s really happening.

Projects are like Rubik’s Cubes

Today’s projects are increasingly multifaceted and complex, not unlike a jumbled Rubik’s Cube. When comparing a Rubik’s Cube with a project you’re managing, both have multiple sides while having their own set of variables that make solving the opportunity unique and difficult…unless you’re this guy:

But, I digress.

If a project is like a Rubik’s Cube and your goal is to become a master of multitasking, then the question is how many Rubik’s’ Cubes are you working with?

Now line them all up in a row.


Let’s say you’re currently working on 10 different projects (Rubik’s Cubes). In order to progress, you have to make a move on all 10 cubes before you can go back and work on the first. So, you start your day with cube #1. You make a move, set it down and pick up cube #2. You make a move, set it down and then pick up #3, and so on.

After a day or two, you’ve made your move on all 10 cubes, and you start again with #1, then #2. But #3 really has you stumped. So, you lay it down and move to #4 while thinking about how to get past #3 after #4. #6 seems to have an obvious move, so you put down #4 and make the move on #6. Still, how do you get past #3?

The reality is projects are complex, unpredictable and time consuming. 

The problem with multitasking isn’t that it can’t be done; it can. The problem is that by the time you get to the 10th cube, it feels like forever since you worked on #1. And, it probably was.

If you’re overwhelmed and feel like you’re not making a lot of progress, count the number of projects you’re working on and think of them like Rubik’s Cubes. I bet it’s starting to make sense why things are moving aren’t progressing very quickly.

Perhaps it’s time to step back and reassess not just what you’re working on, but how. Maybe a few of those projects can move to the @Someday pile, and you can put your focus on a few wildly important projects.

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  • Sheu

    I don’t know how other people work in their daily lives but I, for one, work for a female boss who thinks that multitasking is the way to go and has criticized me for my lack of multitasking skills. The problem is, I tried multitasking one day, and ended up with a string of errors that I had to amend and that took up even more time! But she doesn’t see it that way and I’m kind of stuck on how to get all my things done without having to multitask and at the same time, show her that I can do my job without multitasking. Any ideas?