The Ethics Of Multitasking Business Essay


I'll never forget how great I thought it was when I first discovered multitasking on my computer. Suddenly it was possible to switch between tasks seamlessly; with multiple windows, tabs, and programs open simultaneously. I could write articles, check e-mail, do research, and build spreadsheets-barely pausing between activities. I felt as if I were doing everything at once. It seems like ancient history now, but being able to move quickly and smoothly from one activity to another on a PC was nothing short of a revelation.

But then a funny thing happened: I noticed that the more things I could do with ease on my computer, the harder it was to focus on any one activity. My natural inclination to jump from one thing to another prematurely was now aided and abetted by technology-the very thing that was supposed to be helping me. Then, after the PDA and cell phone became a part of my daily life, I found myself, like millions of others, faced with even more interruptions, and it became increasingly difficult to concentrate. The technological advances that once seemed so liberating had become oppressive.

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I came to realize that multitasking isn't something to be proud of. In fact, it's unethical, and good managers won't do it themselves and will not require it of those they manage.

Here's why multitasking is unethical.

When you multitask, you're doing a lot of work, but you're not doing most (or any) of it well. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that people who fired off e-mails while talking on the phone and watching YouTube videos did each activity less well than those who focused on one thing at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! (Ballantine, 2006), puts it this way: "Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we're simultaneously tasking, but we're really not. It's like playing tennis with three balls."

Truck Crashes

We're in the early phases of understanding fully what multitasking involves at the neurophysiological level, but the emerging research suggests that multitasking reduces rather than enhances the quality of our work-and our lives.

A multitasker behind a desk is unproductive. A multitasker behind the wheel of a car is a potential killer. A study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that when truck drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times as great as when not texting, according to a report in The New York Times. The Times also reported that University of Utah researchers showed that talking on a cell phone while driving quadruples the rate of crashing, a statistic equal to what happens when people drive drunk.

These studies led the U.S. Senate to propose legislation last month that would prohibit texting or e-mailing while driving. (Texting behind the wheel is illegal in 14 states now.) The number of businesses and advocacy groups that endorse such a policy is growing rapidly; the Governors Highway Safety Assn. signed on this week.

A bank executive I know frequently complains about how distracted her boss is during staff meetings. The boss-I'll call him Eric-reads and writes e-mail and makes calls while briefing the staff. "I'll ask Eric a question about an assignment he's given us," my friend complains, "but he's so immersed in what he's doing that I have to repeat my question a couple of times. It ends up taking me three times as long to communicate with him." Eric isn't a bad person. But he's not a good manager, either.

Since multitasking interferes with the ability to do one's job well, the good manager sets an example by focusing on one task at a time. You can't expect the people you lead to resist the urge to multitask if you can't do so yourself. You've probably been annoyed when a clerk is more interested in his or her phone conversation than in assisting you. Why, then, is it O.K. to do the same thing when you're working with your team?

In Control? Or Being Controlled?

Yes, I know it's hard to put those devices away, even for a few moments. I'm not sure whether BlackBerrys and iPhones cause attention problems or simply make those who are susceptible more prone to them. It doesn't help that everywhere we go, we're surrounded by people who are absorbed in their electronic gadgets. What it comes down to is this: Are you controlling the technology, or is the technology controlling you?

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An actor I once knew had a catchy slogan on his business card: "Always there. Always ON!" It was a memorable way to let casting directors know of his commitment to his work.

It seems as though employers too expect their employees to be "always on"-online, on e-mail, or on call. But this simply isn't fair. Employees deserve to have time away from work, and managers should respect their down time. This makes sense from a business perspective, also: Employees who can recharge their batteries and don't feel pressured to be "always there, always on" are more likely to do good work when they're on the job.

For the past three years in this column, I've tried to show how doing the right thing makes good business sense. Respecting an employee's right to be left alone for a portion of the day is a shining example of this.

Technology is morally neutral; it can be put to good or bad use. Managers who want to make the best possible use of technology will take the following guidelines seriously:


Focusing on the task at hand is the best way to get the job done. Multitasking may feel effective, but it isn't. "Monotasking" maximizes your own productivity and serves as a positive example to others.


Boundaries are good, and good managers honor them.


When you're on the phone with a guy who tells you he's behind the wheel, tell him to hang up immediately and get back to you when he's out of harm's way.


The ethical principle of love and compassion applies not just to how you treat others but how you treat yourself, too. You're entitled to watch a movie all the way through or to have a nice meal without looking at your e-mail. And let's face it: There aren't many e-mails so urgent they can't wait a few hours.


Dr. Bruce Weinstein is the public speaker and corporate consultant known as The Ethics Guy. His new book, Is It Still Cheating If I Don't Get Caught?,

Review More Business Management & HR Articles at:


Just what would mean and more advanced in age would say when it comes to multitasking. The writer of this article has a point on productivity quality. Try to finish something before starting something else: yes, this really is possible! When did it become so critical to accomplish so many tasks in such short time frames? It's time we slowed down and quit being enslaved to "progress" and what it dictates we do every moment that we're not asleep (the number of hours of which we enjoy steadiIn computer science, the definition of multitasking is taking multiple processes and switching between doing their tasks on a processor in an efficient fashion. Think ly diminishing).

We need to learn to focus again. We need to go back to basics and turn off some of this technology so we can put all of our efforts into a single activity, and do that one activity the best we can.

Multi-tasking is just another corporate buzzword...

Although I agree with the facts as presented here, I read...

It doesn't matter. Whatever or however you are doing it, you are still doing it...

Its the FOOTDRAGGERS who get the real work done because multi-taskers can't focus on any one thing, even though they arrogantly believe they can. Thank God the footdraggers get in your way -- to slow down ridiculous ideas and half-baked notions that are never completely thought through. I like multi-taskers and footdraggers both because together they produce the best solutions -- but only if they respect each other. You clearly have no time for the footdraggers, and that makes someone like you describe a liability to your organization.

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Do they really expect us to believe that every one of the 262 undergraduates they tested all failed at multitasking? That not a single person could do it. What a shame. All I know is If I had the inability to multitask I would not be allowed to do my job, it requires excessive multitasking, tons of thought processing and the ability to keep jobs separate or it would be a cluster frack. The tasks I perform require 8 sometimes 10 different types of software being used at 1 to creat a final project and that's the easy part. But then again I don't stare about blue and red triangles at my desk all day either. The researcher are correct in one aspect. Multitasking does require the unique ability to concentrate and pay attention to the task at hand but if u can separate each task and sort of place it in its own little thought box in your mind than you just switch between boxes as you move from one task to another. The key is to pay attention. Maybe the 262 testees weren't really multitaskers at all. Its a unique ability I believe and I'm the only one in my department at work that has the ability to do it besides one other person in an office of 50 so it's something extremely common but I believe it can be learned with the right mindset, patience and ability to handle stress well.

I've also seen a number of articles lately that point out that kids ARE better at multitasking than adults. They've grown up with cell phones, internet etc. Maybe it's just that x + 7 = 11 isn't all that hard compared to asynchronous device managers, but all studies also say that the brain just adapts faster when you're younger. It'll be interesting to see when the Y generation hits their 30s and 40s whether multitasking is considered harmful or something that senior citizens talk about. Sign me up for the old folks home, I can't talk on my cell and remember to turn left on my way home. I think I should point out that this issue is not that simple.

Men and Woman's brains are different. Women can multitask better than men because we evolved that way.

Back when the human race was forming the male was the hunter and had a single task of finding prey, killing it and dragging it home. All serial tasks. While the women stayed close to home, cleaning, cooking, gardening while whiching over a pack of kids. Women had to do all of this at the same time while keeping in mind where each kid was in relation to incoming preditors like the mean saber tooth tiger. Women developed a multitasking brain.

The study, carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry, found excessive use of technology reduced workers' intelligence. Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ - more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana, said researchers. (Coding Horror, 2006)

Now this isn't to say that men have completely different brains as women (or vice versa) but we all fit somewhere on a continuum. Some men can multitask because there brain had developed and evolved through the generations as a female brain.

My point is that there are people (men and women but more women than men) who can mulitask.

When you multitask, you're doing a lot of work, but you're not doing most (or any) of it well. (Ballantine, 2006), puts it this way: "Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we're simultaneously tasking, but we're really not. It's like playing tennis with three balls." Mark Lacter•September 8 2009

Multitasking is a necessity. Period. However you argue with this, it is impractical to waste your time and effort on things which will exhaust your resources in a very non-productive way. Every action we make involves time, money, effort, work, needs and wants, money again, and so on. So be wise. Manage your multitasking.

The key to managing your multitasking lies in your management of the following:

Your Goals.

There's no point in managing your multitasking if you have no established grasp of what you want to accomplish. Everyday, you must set your desired quota of goals to reach. That way, you'll know what it is that you're working hard for. This is primarily essential as it is almost always hard to begin any work when you have no set goals.

Your Priorities.

Know which tasks are more important and urgent. Prioritization determines how much time, focus and energy you need to spend for a certain task. This will boost your multitasking efficiency especially when you finish jobs before deadlines, in addition to having a greater view on the tasks that could potentially affect your work because you already know which is more important over the others once you fail to do them. Making a to-do-list ordered from the most urgent to the less would also be a splendid idea.

Your Focus.

You need to have a mind that is set straight on the task at hand that is why you need to manage your focus. Eliminate any distractions that would keep you from effectively doing your work. No matter how tempting a distraction can be, never forget that you have to accomplish something that is in line with your goals and priorities.

The idea of multitasking comes from computers, which could perform many functions at once.

Our brains operates in much the same way computer does-flipping back and forth between tasks. e timedage is trueOur brain operates in much the same way computer does; it flips back and forth between tasksMultitasking also jeopardizes your health. It involves stress which enables the brain to send signal to the body to rapidly release the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol. This hormone is released in response of the brain to stress, to help you perform under pressure. It's what gets you out of danger in case of accident or fire or past that deadline. But continuous multitasking will make you "sick". Your brain and body won't be able to cope with the cortisol rush. Cortisol overload may lead to serious m problems such as high blood pressure, cardiac diseases, and even stroke.(Raine, 2008)

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