When was the last time you heard someone talk about how they are always “multitasking?” It’s like a badge of honor for some people.
Do you consider yourself a “multitasker?”
If you look up the term multitasking on Wikipedia, you will find that this term is actually derived from computer multitasking, where computer instructions are processed at such a high-speed that they effectively appear to be performed at the same time. In human terms it is really not possible to focus on two things at the same time.
Perhaps we should instead think of multitasking as a lack of ability to focus.
If you think about it, everything we do requires a certain level of focus. Try this – hold up one finger on both hands simultaneously and see if you can focus on both at the same time. It cannot be done. Similarly, you cannot effectively focus on two tasks at the same time and produce positive outcomes.
I think what we really mean when we refer to multitasking is that we are able to shift our focus quickly from one task to another and still achieve great results. That is very difficult to do. Each time you make a shift away from a particular task, you create a break point that results in a learning curve (albeit may be a brief one) when you pick the work back up again. This creates more opportunity for errors, and certainly reduces efficiency. I would argue that it will ultimately take you more time to complete several tasks handled with multitasking than if you remained focused and completed them in a serial manner.
Focus, and your ability to remain focused, is the key.
I admit that I am not a “multitasker,” but I have learned over the years to create deep focus to accelerate completion of tasks serially, thus creating a sense that I was multitasking.
I have spent many years personally working on the discipline of focus and trying to find ways where I could increase my own performance (in sports, work, time with family, etc.). You sometimes hear about professional athletes being “in the zone.” Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are well-known for their ability to focus and achieve top performance for a sustained period of time.
It’s pretty amazing what you can achieve if you are able to create a discipline around your own focus. I remember when I was in strategy consulting and had to work in many unusual work environments – in construction trailers, coffee shops, noisy cafeterias, airports, etc. – and the level of focus it took to tune out all the external distractions. I learned a lot about how to control my focus, and that has remained with me to this day.
I suppose if we were really good at multitasking we could text and drive at the same time – and we know that is not a good idea! Focus is much better.
Next time you find yourself in a mode where you feel like you are jumping from task to task without driving anything to completion, stop and take a breath. Then, think about the priority of the tasks and commit to driving each one to completion prior to moving to the next one. Sure you might be interrupted occasionally, but commit to getting back to the task at hand and you’ll be surprised at how much more you can accomplish in the same amount of time – with better results! Focus more, and you will achieve more.
I would love to hear your stories of times where you really achieved more through deep focus, and what you did to create and maintain that focus.