Down With Multi-Tasking! Up With Focus!

Are you a multitasker?  Did you at some time in your life buy into the idea that you can effectively do two things at the same time and therefore, quote-unquote, save time?  Well, how’s that been working for you?  Researchers are now discovering that the salvation we thought we had found, with multi-tasking as a panacea and the secret path to our ability to do more with less, has been in fact way over-rated.  Instead what happens most people wind up doing two things poorly instead of one well and one later.

Here are three signs that you are not focusing effectively:

  • You are making mistakes.
  • You are feeling tired and frazzled.
  • You consistently get feedback that you are not paying attention to others.

I know.  Your first thoughts are, ‘but I don’t have a choice.  I have so much to do’.  Well, if it makes you feel any better, you should know that the multi-tasking route isn’t really helping you as much as you think.  Every time you have to switch between tasks, it takes time for your brain to get back up to speed.  You know that slow, sluggish feeling you get for the first few seconds when you are coming out of a deep thinking groove? That is actually your brain switching gears.  Therefore, when you switch back to what you were originally working on, you have to gear back up and try to find that groove again.  This is time lost and productivity that is not maximized.  So multiply that by the number of times you are now switching back and forth in a typical day.

To combat this, it is recommended that you structure your day in a way that allows you to focus on one task at a time, especially when those tasks require creativity, deep thinking or your full attention.  You only need to be able to do this for relatively short periods to benefit from the power of this concentrated thinking and, in fact, you are likely to only be able to do it for an hour at most, before you start feeling tired.  So plan your breaks accordingly and use them to switch to something else.

If people around you are constantly feeling ignored, even though you are convinced that you are giving them so much of your time, then chances are that you are not paying them enough attention.  Instead of trying to squeeze them in when you are trying to focus on something else, allocate time to focus on them exclusively.  When that time comes around, don’t be distracted by anything else around you or even by your own thoughts.  You may find it difficult to do at first but this kind of deep listening pays off in building relationships and enabling your employees and colleagues to recognize that you really do want to hear what they have to say.

Failure to give your full attention to one task at a time can also have dire potential consequences as you are rushing to complete a task and shift quickly to the next one.  This is when mistakes can happen and sometimes they can be costly and time consuming to unravel.  Focus not only gives you the satisfaction of doing a task and doing it well the first time, it also reduces the frustration that you will feel from making mistakes and having to re-do a task multiple times.

Unfortunately, the person who most suffers from multi-tasking is the person who is practicing it.  It’s like self-inflicted torture.  Our brains are already busy working to keep us alive by engaging in multiple tasks at the same time.  When you are now trying to force yourself to respond to email while also engaging in conversation or flipping between the report you are preparing and responding to every question that comes to your door, you run the risk of not giving proper attention to any of the tasks that you are doing.  If you doubt this, just look at the many accidents we hear about which involve people who are trying to text and drive at the same time.

Researchers have found that those individuals who are able to pay attention to one thing at a time are actually more productive.  They get more done, produce a higher quality of work and end up feeling less stressed.

Focus doesn’t mean that you spend your whole day working on one thing.  Unfortunately, in today’s demanding work environment that is usually not feasible anyway.  Instead, focus refers to us giving our attention to one thing at a time for however long we can, even if it is just for fifteen or twenty minutes.  That attention pays off big time.  Take it from all the reformed multi-taskers out here.  We have seen the future and it is FOCUSED!


Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance.  She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados. Follow her on twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.  For more of her writing visit



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