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Is Multitasking Bad for Business?

The Multitasking Myth

Everybody knows you shouldn’t text and drive. To drive safely, you need to focus on the task at hand, whether that means avoiding obstacles, monitoring other drivers, or following directions.

Even on an empty road, a driver needs to concentrate. Anything that distracts or diverts a driver’s attention, whether it’s a cell phone or a sandwich, can cause a nasty, even fatal, accident.

When it comes to driving, the effects of multitasking are self-evident (more than a 1/4 of all traffic accidents involve cell phones), and responsible drivers limit their risk by focusing on the road ahead.

So why don’t business owners do the same?

Multitasking and Small Business

Your company is like a car, just ask any business writer! Small business experts often use automotive analogies to describe the startup process, whether they are talking about “fueling” growth with credit, or “steering” clear of debt.

And just as drivers need to avoid distractions, business owners need to concentrate on executing tasks efficiently and successfully.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs are often called upon to make a number of important decisions in a relatively short period of time. Often, business owners choose to “bundle” priorities and execute vital tasks in groups of two or three.

On any given day, multitasking may seem like the only way to execute a spate of tasks efficiently, but juggling tasks actually reduces productivity.

Thanks to smartphones, mobile devices, and cloud-based applications, it is easier than ever to “manage” several streams of data, including financial information, communications, and content, simultaneously. However, studies show that our brains are easily distracted.

When we switch back and forth between tasks, our brain has a hard time distinguishing between higher-order and lower-order priorities. Mistakes are made, and crucial items are omitted, when the brain becomes over-stimulated.

When you focus on a single task, you might feel that you are moving at a snail’s pace, but you are actually working more efficiently. And when the task at hand has been completed, you will be able to quickly shift your attention to the next objective.

Managing Stress, Lowering Costs

As most of us know, attempting to juggle several complex tasks at one time can cause anxiety. The stress that results from multitasking can lead to illness, memory impairment, or an inability to focus.

If you are performing below your ability, then your business will suffer financially, and your reputation will take a hit. A recent study by Basex, a business consultation company, found that employees and managers who routinely perform more than two tasks at a time take 28% longer on average to complete a single assignment.

To fight the fatigue that results from over-stimulation and multitasking, make a daily list of your priorities. Schedule a block of time for routine communications tasks, such as answering emails, rather than checking your inbox every fifteen minutes.

And make sure to take a short break every few hours. Staying focused and avoiding stress will help you, well, drive your business to success.


Marshall Walker Lee graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Michigan's Honors College with degrees in Writing and Philosophy. As a freelance writer and designer he has developed branding strategies and programming for J. Walter Thompson, Nike, the Kellogg Foundation, Spike TV, Sony Films, and General Motors. He is the co-founder and director of Poor Claudia, a 501(c)3 non-profit publishing enterprise based in Portland, Oregon.