Updated: Jan 7, 2020

“Concentrate all your efforts up the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn through until brought into focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell

We are inundated by multiple tasks throughout the day, most of which are NOT of our own doing. These tasks are big and small, important and non-important, urgent and non-urgent, our own priorities and others. We become overwhelmed by the tasks and risk becoming ineffective, stressed or making mistakes.

While we naturally default to a system or habit of managing tasks, which is based on our past experiences while not stopping to reflect on our own capacity to multi task or the order in which to complete a task. In addition, we tend to believe that multi-tasking is somehow a good thing because we often confuse being busy with being effective. Multi-tasking gives the impression of momentum and activity, which can feed our need for accomplishment. Many of the multi-tasks we take on tend to be easier or more fun, than the most important tasks. If they weren’t easier and more fun, we likely wouldn’t be doing them at all.

The digital distraction environment has made this phenomena more pronounced recently, with the advent of mobile digital devices, social media and texting, in addition to email, phone calls and other forms of so- called communications. It becomes almost impossible, without at least closing the door, turning off the phone and disconnecting the computer, to focus on a single task for more than a few minutes during a normal work day.

I am here to break the news to you that you are likely much LESS effective than you think as a multi-tasker. Many recent studies in Neuroscience studies show a direct and significant correlation between increased distractions and a decrease in concentration and academic performance. One study found that it can take an average of 15 minutes to return to a high level of concentration after a single distraction, such as a phone call. Another found that students who on average, check Facebook even once in a 15 minute period, have poorer academic performance.

Developing a single minded level of focus on critical tasks is crucial to long-term success in any field. Developing the ability to stay with one task over a prolonged period of time will give you a significant advantage over your competitors and greatly assist the achievement of your goals.

Staying Focused:

• Significantly limit technological distractions in your life, such as excess social media, email, internet surfing and television. Consider checking email only once or twice a day, and turning off your smart phone during important periods of concentration.

• Make it a habit to avoid time consuming people and activities. Don’t allow other people to interrupt you if you need to seriously concentrate. This can be done by putting a Do Not Disturb sign on your door, which most people will respect.

• Stop the denial and realize that you are likely not a good multi-tasker. Take the time to understand your own particular ability to multi-task. Do this by asking someone you know and trust for their insight. Alternatively, think about the times in your life when you have been most efficient and replicate those circumstances when required.

• Protect your schedule as if your life depended on it and don’t allow other circumstances to interrupt.

• Try to develop Flow in your work by focussing on one task until it is complete, or for the allotted time. The state of flow will dramatically increase your productivity while helping you develop good long-term habit.

Eamonn Percy

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