from InfoQ , June 29, 2010

The prevailing business model considers multitasking a strategy for more efficient worker output.  Individual workers are put in “skill silos” and assigned to simultaneously work on multiple projects.

The brain does pretty well in shifting between two contexts for small projects. Still, even as low-tech an interruption as a phone call can cost as much as 15 minutes of recovery time before a worker is totally reoriented to what he was doing before the phone call.

For broad jumps in subject matter and technology, the switching cost is much higher.  And if a worker is shifting frequently, context-switching time becomes a significant portion of his work time.

Moreover, switching creates the potential for a worker to lose or edit his memory of a process he’d previously put into short-term storage.   There’s no guarantee that what he’d put in is what will come out.

There is evidence that multitasking degrades short-term memory and may even impact areas of the brain.

Multitasking creates stress, thus involving the more primitive parts of the brain concerned with personal safety and diverting energy from the more evolved parts concerned with higher-level thinking.

Workers are more prone to errors when multitasking.  Redoing the work significantly reduces efficiency.

Roger Brown, the author of the article, advocates a new paradigm, one of collaboration and team synergy.  He narrows the concept scope by assigning a team to work together on each step of the same development problem.  You might call this new idea “unitasking.”

By eliminating the concept switching cost inherent to a multitasking team working on the same development problem, Brown had a 10% gain in productivity, evidenced by the shorter completion date achieved by workers following his new paradigm.

Some might call the innovation “unitasking.”

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