As a wise man once said, only with focus can the picture become clear! Well, OK, I just made that up, but you have to admit, it sounds pretty wise! This, the fifth part of our series is concerned with focus and specifically focusing on not only what is important, but on one thing at a time. There is a great book, rather short, so a quick read, called The Myth of Multitasking, by Dave Crenshaw. Just by its title you can see that it flies in the face of almost every ‘guru of the week’ who has come down the pike in the last 20 years. Not to mention directly conflict with almost every employment ad written in that same span of time.
But the fact of the matter is that people who focus on a single task, and follow it through to its completion can be as much as 150% more efficient than those folks who try and muti-task. There’s a test you can take that will show you exactly how that plays itself out, maybe I’ll show you later. But the simple truth is that if you can learn to ignore the distractions that so many people allow to enter their lives you will be far more productive and by being more productive you can find a number of ways to improve your focus on almost everything.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “But J when I applied for my job they STRESSED the importance of multi tasking and how it was no longer just expected, but required as a skill set for the job.” Unfortunately that’s probably true, going all the way back to the late 1980’s when computers first started invading our homes, the word multitasking started to invade the work place. Think about it, before computers a “secretary” would take notes at a meeting and then go back to her desk and manually type them out on a typewriter, then if she was lucky and the company owned a copy machine, she would go stand by the copier for an hour while it cranked out 20 or 30 copies to be hand delivered, through inter office mail, to everyone who should have been at the meeting. This process could consume as much as 3 to 4 hours of her work day.
Now, compare that with today where, depending on the status of the company, the “executive assistant” would attend a meeting with a laptop and type the notes as they were spoken and afterwards would spend 5 minutes editing them for legibility (and dirty jokes) and then hit SEND on an email application. If the company is well to do or very technically aware, she wont even have to do that, instead, while she is doing something else (probably cruising the web), she will ‘dial in’ to the conference call and listen to the meeting as its being recorded into their ‘dictation system’ where after its all over it will translate the spoken words for her, into fairly legible text, at which point she will spend the same 10 minutes editing the document, only to hit SEND in the end!
Looking at those two examples ALMOST looks like a technology comparison, but in reality it’s about the fact of technology allowing a tighter focus on existing issues. How? Well imagine if that same executive assistant with the same meeting to attend also has a conference call lined up at the same time. She could, as many folks do, “dial in” to her primary meeting and take notes while ‘webbing’ into the second teleconference, but really can you imagine what the output would look like? Me I don’t have to imagine, I have been on the receiving end OF those notes. They are brief bulleted item lists with little if any elaboration at all. And that only because she happened to ask the initial presenter for a copy of his slides for post meeting review, I can only imagine the results otherwise.
Now for your test, and I must rely on your innate human honesty to make this work, take out 2 pieces of paper and a stop watch, if you don’t have one, use a watch w/ a second hand or heaven help us, there’s an app for that. On your 1st piece of paper you will be writing the sentence “Multitasking is a dirty little lie” and then right below that write the numbers from 1 to 26. Start the timer when you start writing, stops the timer when you put your pen down. (YES you must write this, typing doesn’t count, because I don’t believe you can perform the second part effectively). NOTE YOUR TIME.
Now for the second part, once you start the timer you will on line one write the FIRST letter of the sentence “Multitasking is a dirty little lie”, which is an M, then on the line below it write the #1, then go BACK to line 1 and write U, then back to line 2 and write 2, then back to line 3 and write the letter L then back to line 2 an write the number 3. Keep doing this until you reach the end of both sentences and you should have the sentence on line one and the numbers 1 – 26 on line two. NOTE YOUR TIME.
If you are average in your skills in writing you will find that you have just “simulated pre emptive multitasking” which is actually as close to multi tasking as humans can get. You will probably also notice that step two took almost 150% (or more) time than step 1. What should that say? People are lousy at multi tasking, we can not literally process 2 things at once, so we have to pause one thing, process the next then go back to the first, VERY INEFFICIENT. So, to put your best foot forward, in business or in your writing, FOCUS on one thing at a time. As one of my early mentors once told me (to paraphrase), “You work on one task at a time, you fine, you work on the other task at a time, you fine, you try and work on BOTH tasks at the SAME time and SQUISH like grape.”
So the next time someone asks about multi tasking, whether its in your current job, writing your book or on an applications somewhere, just go “squish like grape” and see if they understand!
Or you could just pick an excuse, any excuse….