Have you heard about the current research that states that the practice of multi-tasking is not the best way to get things done?
When I heard this, I initially thought, wow, where would I be without multitasking? Don’t we all take pride in the fact that we can do 10 things at once? And, we are busy, busy, busy, yet juggling it all! I remember in my first job out of college my manager gave me a coffee mug that showed a woman with about 20 arms doing all kinds of things at once, looking completely calm in the process! She and I both enjoyed thinking of ourselves as talented multi-taskers! And, my guess is, you might too!
Recent studies such as the one by scientist, Daniel Kahneman, have shown that the human brain can only focus on a certain amount of information at one time. And, an article in Forbes actually alleges that multitasking damages your brain, lowering your IQ and EQ.
Imagine that you are watching the news while chatting on the phone with a friend, and folding the laundry. That may feel reasonable enough but those tasks are all pretty basic and don’t require a lot of attention. However, what if you were driving a car in a snowstorm, while talking to a distraught teenager, and reciting the alphabet backward? Well, I know that is a bit of an extreme example, but you get the idea! The more critical or challenging the task, the more important that you be present and focus on that one task, versus multitasking.
Until now, I had always viewed multi-tasking as a required skill to get through life productively. However, I’m starting to rethink that and I’m discovering the power of concentrated focus on one thing at a time. In fact, I had the television on in the background as I was writing this blog, and just laughed at loud, realizing that I would probably think more clearly without it!
As I have been paying closer attention to the impact of my multitasking, here are a few discoveries that I have made.
First, it occurred to me that concentrating my focus vs. multi-tasking is similar to the concept of the One Word tool. Many of us have been using the One Word for years and for me, the power of the One Word is in its simplicity of focus. That One Word becomes a priority and we intentionally think about it each day for 365 days, and we see the impact that this focus can make in our lives by the time that the year is over.
Second, I have always loved a good to do list. And, now I have taken that list a step or two further to enhance my focus. I take my long to do list and think about the 2-3 top priorities that must get done today. Then, I think about how long it will take me to tackle each task, and here’s the key – I assign a specific timeframe, to get them done. This has become an impactful step because it helps diffuse the feeling of being overwhelmed. It may be a task I am not excited to dive into, but once I realize that it should only take an hour, I feel more committed to getting it done. Then, I plug that hour into the calendar. If something should take an hour, I might plug it into my 9-10 a.m. timeframe. Then, I set an alarm on my phone for 60 minutes and create a bit of a challenge for myself to get the task done. It may sound silly, but it has really worked for me!
Last, I have discovered that things take less time than you believe it will when you can give it your undivided attention. When I was multitasking, it felt like I was working on the same task or project for weeks at a time. I think that was because it was more difficult to get a whole task off my to-do list, I just chipped away a little at a time by doing so many other things at the same time. When I decide to tackle a task (or part of a project), and put a realistic time frame on it with intense focus, it has been a pleasant surprise to see something that felt overwhelming become very manageable.
I must admit that some days I am more successful with my laser-focused approach than other days. However, the new approach does give me a greater sense of accomplishment, and also tends to be much more energizing than the frequent chaotic feeling of trying to juggle a million things at once!
It may be interesting for you to try a little experiment of your own. See if you find that laser focus is more productive and energizing for you, and you may just keep your brain healthier in the long run!
oday’s blog was written by WWR Partner Coach, Donna Kettell. Donna is a certified professional coach (CPC) and a master practitioner in energy leadership (ELI-MP). Her certifications were earned through The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), which is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).