The Marshmallow Challenge vs. Multitasking: Is it more effective to just get started than to plan for a long time?


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Strategic planning is a guarantee for good results. However, a simple experiment with spaghetti and a marshmallow shows that it doesn't necessarily make you more productive. But the opposite doesn't help either.

The Marshmallow Challenge vs. Multitasking: Is it more effective to just get started than to plan for a long time?

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Simone Janson Simone JansonSimone Janson is publisherGerman Top20 blogger and Consultant for HR communication.

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Strategies lead to the goal?

Those who plan ahead, develop strategies and only make decisions after careful consideration are generally considered to be more effective than people who decide intuitively or “from the gut”. In contrast, a well thought-out strategy is well thought out and is often even based on scientific research.

It sounds logical that the results have to be better. Or?

A recruiter recently told me something else: being Company uses the Marshmallow Challenge for applicant selection and team building. And that seems to prove the opposite.

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The Marshmallow Challenge

A team receives a pack of uncooked spaghetti, string, duct tape and a marshmallow. The task: The team has to build the highest possible tower from the spaghetti within a fixed time frame of 18 minutes, on the top of which a marshmallow is to be placed. This challenge was tested with various groups - including graduates from business schools, but also with four-year-old kindergarten children.

And now guess which group did better? The results at a glance:

  • The tower is 50 centimeters high for an average team.
  • Business school graduates only measure 25 centimeters on average.
  • CEOs construct structures an average of 60 centimeters. If there is only one CEO working with his secretaries, it will be 80 centimeters.
  • Kindergarten children build up to 75 centimeters high.

Why just trying it out is more effective

The explanation for these results is as simple as it is surprising: Business school graduates don't just dwell in vanities and rivalries. They are also trained to strategically build on the only correct solution. If that doesn't work out, they don't have time to build something new.

You can tell the CEOs have practical organizational experience. But if you work together with your secretaries and only one sets the tone, you will get even better.

The fact that the kindergarten children do so well is not only due to the fact that they work well together far away from rivalries; no, they are simply at ease enough to just try things out. If the tower collapses along the way, just try again. Obviously, with this learning-by-doing method, they are more successful than business school graduates and most company heads.

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Better: the strategy of one task

So you can see that strategic planning does not always have to lead to better results. Sometimes it's better to just try things out. But that doesn't always apply. On the other hand, multitasking, for example, is often just as fruitless. What helps, however, is the strategy of one task. Let me explain:

Multitasking, the much-touted skill of our time, may not be one at all. Studies show that people are actually not capable of multitasking at all. Maybe you should only do one task a day instead?

I know people who handle it like this: “I only do one task a day”. And even if it doesn't sound up to date, you might be right about it. It may seem efficient to string together several tasks in a day, but I often find that I fail if I do too much in one day.

Does multitasking make you dumber than weed?

Best-selling author Martin Wehrle recently commented on this in a post Best of HR – Berufebilder.de®  confirmed: According to his surprising statement, there is not only no multitasking, no, it also makes you stupid. As evidence, Wehrle uses the study that we have already written about at imgriff.com and according to which the distraction is carried out eMails stupid than smoking weed. Wehrle wrote:

“The term multitasking is inhuman: It comes from the computer language and describes the ability of an operating system to handle several tasks at the same time. Each of these processes access the central brain of the computer, the main processor. This distributes the capacities. But the processes only seem to run simultaneously: They happen one after the other in a flash. "

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In the end, according to Wehrle, what happens to the human brain does what happens to a computer that has to cope with too many computing processes at once: it hangs up and gets out. But what helps to prevent it from getting to that point in the first place?

Do only one task a day - that's how it works

In my opinion, the only solution is to actually plan on less, namely to do only one task a day. Example: If I want to be efficient, I combine going to the post office with dropping off the returnable bottles in the supermarket, etc., after all, I'm already there and then save myself the trip. Or when I go somewhere, especially if it's a long way away, I wonder whether I could check out a few other travel destinations on the way there. Result: The whole thing becomes a lot more stress. Too many things to think about.

If I only do one thing a day, it doesn't happen that way. Then I just go to the post office. Or in the supermarket. Or just fly to my original travel destination. The reason is that such series tasks quickly overwhelm me: While I am still doing one thing, I'm already thinking about the next. Or I have to remember to take everything with me for different occasions, such as the empty bottles and the mail parcel or luggage for several occasions at a travel destination - which, depending on the weather, makes up half a suitcase load. My personal conclusion: Doing only one thing a day, also in a figurative sense, is actually less stressful.


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