The ability to multi-task is an urban myth.
You may try to do multiple things at the same time but it is difficult, if not impossible, to focus on the task at hand if there several tasks battling for attention.
Nevertheless, there’s a widely-accepted belief that talking on the phone, writing an e-mail, and checking your Twitter status at the same time is an efficient way to operate.
Frankly, we’re kidding ourselves. It may be physically possible to multi-task but it’s totally inefficient to be bouncing around from task to task like a Mexican jumping bean, rather than focusing on one thing at a time, before moving on to the next task. (aka single-tasking).
Focus is a subject I have battled to embrace over the past couple of years as the demands of handling multiple consulting clients makes it more important to manage my time and focus my efforts. In our multi-tasking world, it takes tremendous discipline to bear down on what needs to be done when there are a variety of tempting distractions.
Among my peers, it seemed like I was the only one struggling to figure out if there was a different way to operate – a way that let us focus in a multi-tasking world.
It is encouraging to see other people start to address what I see as the “Focus Crisis”.
In a blog post recently, Jason Falls asked “What would happened if you took a break from social media? Falls, a social media consultant, addressed the issue of being engaged professionally and personally when social media can be seductive mistress demanding your attention 24/7.
Mark MacLeod (aka StartupCFO) had a post about turning off his wireless device so he could focus on talking to new companies about a possible investment, or watching his son swim. Again, we’re talking about someone struggling to focus. To an effort to get back on the right track, MacLeod made this commitment:
“So, I am vowing now to my family, my partners and the entrepreneurs we meet that I will be present. Work will continue to come in probably faster and faster as our portfolio grows over time. So, I will need to be very good at carving out blocks for work and blocks for meetings. And at home, I will need to create distinct times for work vs. continually floating in and out of work and family stuff.”
Finally, the New York Times has a front-page story today about the struggles teachers are having getting students to focus. In class, students are sending dozens of text messages using wireless devices rather than focusing on the teacher.
Maybe I’m taking 1 + 1 + 1 to equal four but what we’re increasingly having is a failure to focus on anything. We’re multi-tasking, distracted and inefficient. Our personal lives are less rich and engaged because we need to check our wireless devices for e-mail or update our Twitter status. Our professional lives are becoming less productive even at a time when it’s more important to focus because many companies continue to operate lean and mean.
As the ability to focus becomes more difficult, we’re losing something along the way. In our personal lives, it’s respect and true engagement – something that can not be achieved when a conversation with someone could be abandoned at any time to take a phone call. In our professional lives, we’re less efficient, which means more stress because the work isn’t getting done. As a result, work is spilling into our personal lives so we can catch up.
Not a lot of people may be talking about it but we’re in the midst of a focus crisis. And it’s not going to any easier as more devices, technologies and online services battle for attention. But if we don’t get a handle on being focused soon, we’re in trouble.