Career professionals today often find themselves attempting to do many things at once. As the Internet, mobile devices, and myriad other technological wonders become increasingly integrated into our lives, it gets harder to concentrate on any single item. Everywhere you look, you are besieged by competing demands for your time and attention, commanding you to practice multitasking. "Answer the phone." "Click here." "Push here." "Open me." "Switch me on." "Do it all at once!"
Equally unfortunate, multitasking is often promoted as a way for us to meet the complex demands of our modern society and accomplish more in the same amount of time. Have you ever attempted to work on a presentation while browsing the Internet and talking on the phone? You don't accomplish much, and time mysteriously disappears.
Multitasking Largely Doesn’t Pay Off
Research shows that multitasking seldom enables people to accomplish more. A study published by the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology, Human Perception and Performance found that the effects of multitasking can actually be counterproductive. No matter what you may have heard, a human being is not a computer. While there are some low-level tasks you can perform simultaneously, such as eating and watching television, for most professionals multitasking is an idea whose time should never have come.
Multitasking is not only ineffective, but also potentially dangerous. Concentrating on a distant phone call inevitably detracts from a driver's ability to focus on the road, increasing risk of injury. Several recent studies have found that cell phone use while driving leads to an increased risk of automobile accidents.
Give Attention to the Task at Hand
So how are you supposed to complete your daily tasks without getting so stressed out or frustrated that you cannot finish any? The answer: Less is more.
Research has shown that your brain works best when it is focused in one direction. Therefore, the key is to focus on the task at hand and be present in the moment. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? If you doubt that this is sound advice, then you can set up an easy test right in your own office!
Think of three easy tasks, such as drawing 20 stars on a piece of paper, linking 20 paper clips, and stacking 20 pennies. Then, set up a race with a friend or family member. One person must proceed through the tasks sequentially, taking each assignment to completion before moving on. The other person has to rotate among the three tasks, doing three or four stars, two or three paper clips, and then three or four pennies.
All other things being equal, who is going to win every time? The person who doesn't switch tasks frequently will be the winner. There is no greater efficiency than focusing on the task at hand and giving it your full concentration. As a friend of mine succinctly summed it up: Focus beats brilliance.
You Can Work Smarter
When a flight is canceled and people rush to the reservation desk and scramble to catch the next plane or some other connection, does the gate agent attempt to take on five or 10 people at a time? No. He looks at the computer and handles a particular customer's rerouting, looking up only sparingly. The attendant is not fazed by a 20-person line because it is clearly practical to proceed through it one customer at a time.
Suppose you are continually interrupted by the phone whenever you try to work at your computer. You cannot do your best work because when the phone rings you lose your concentration and focus. How can you handle the situation so that both jobs get the best of your attention? The key is a process called mental completion.
When the phone rings while you are working on your computer, silently recognize yourself by thinking, "I acknowledge myself for coming this far on this project." Then save the work on your screen and turn to the phone. Give the caller your complete and undivided attention; take notes, even smile into the phone. Do whatever you need to do to be successful on that phone call. Then, at the conclusion of the call, put the phone down, acknowledge yourself for handling it, and turn back to your computer and begin again.
The process of giving yourself a mental completion on all tasks, or even thoughts, sets up a mental partition. You gain more energy, focus, and direction for your next task.
Concentrate and Prosper!
If you can continually hone and refine your powers of concentration you'll do a better job and have more time at the end of the day. Both your career and your peace of mind will improve.