Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin: The Impact of Task Juggling on Workers’ Speed of Job Completion

45 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2011

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 8, 2010


We show that task juggling, i.e., the spreading of effort across too many active projects, decreases the performance of workers, raising the chances of low throughput, long duration of projects and exploding backlogs. Individual speed of job completion cannot be explained only in terms of effort, ability and experience: work scheduling is a crucial “input” that cannot be omitted from the production function of individual workers. We provide a simple theoretical model to study the effects of increased task juggling on the duration of projects. Using a sample of Italian judges we show that those who are induced for exogenous reasons to work in a more parallel fashion on many trials at the same time, take longer to complete similar portfolios of cases. The exogenous variation that identifies this causal effect is constructed exploiting the lottery that assigns cases to judges together with the procedural prescription requiring judges to hold the first hearing of a case no later than 60 days from filing.

Keywords: Individual Production Function, Work Scheduling, Duration of Trials

JEL Classification: J0, K0, M5

Suggested Citation

Coviello, Decio and Ichino, Andrea and Persico, Nicola, Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin: The Impact of Task Juggling on Workers’ Speed of Job Completion (July 8, 2010). CEIS Working Paper No. 185, Available at SSRN: or

Decio Coviello (Contact Author)

HEC Montreal ( email )

3000, chemin de la Cote-Saint-Catherine,
montreal, Quebec H2V3P7

Andrea Ichino

University of Bologna ( email )

Piazza Scaravilli 1
40126 Bologna, fc 47100
+39 349 5965919 (Phone)

Nicola Persico

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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