Readers may be familiar with my distaste of excessive multitasking given the two previous articles (in October and November 2009) I had written about this common practice. Most PM practitioners share these concerns but we struggle with the challenge of convincing our senior management to really understand the impacts of this behavior so that positive change will occur.
It can be enlightening to have your leadership team participate in the simple simulation exercise (perhaps more than once, to help reinforce the message!) of constructing three of four different types of small LEGO widgets to see how throughput and quality suffer when they attempt to multitask the production of these simple models.
However, few of us have the luxury of being able to get our executive teams to commit their time to such an exercise so as most executives are likely to have done some personal financial investing, drawing an analogy to that familiar domain might resonate with them.
The costs of context switching are very similar to the costs of the excessive transaction commissions incurred if one were to frequently switch their investments between securities. Gone might be the days of “buy and forget”, but excessive buying and selling is not a path to financial freedom either – over time, the transaction commission costs might eliminate most of your positive returns.
Another challenge with context switching has to do with the knowledge needed to effectively multitask. If you engage in frequent security buys and sells, you must spend a significant amount of your time learning about each of the securities to increase your odds of making a good decision (otherwise, you are just gambling) – this effort spent in learning about and analyzing each potential investment is an opportunity cost to other productive endeavors, and coupled with the actual costs of seminars, books, magazines or other avenues of gaining this knowledge would reduce your aggregate ability to invest.
Excessive multitasking is a primary PM super villain and defeating it won’t be easy, but maybe the power of analogy might give you the silver bullet you need.