Do you focus on doing one thing at a time? Not can you, but do you?
For years there has been much ado about the ability of women to multi-task – implying some sort of superiority over our poor, pitiful male counterparts who are only able to handle doing one thing at a time; bless them.
Years of working with others has gotten us accustomed to being interrupted by colleagues, juggling meetings, re-prioritising tasks on our Choose-To-Do lists, managing multiple stakeholders expectations and being distracted by a consistent flow of phone calls, texts and emails.
Not surprisingly, many women have bought into the belief that multi-tasking is necessary in order to ‘do it all’ at work. (I’m not even talking about what goes on in our ‘outside of work’ lives – assuming we can keep them even vaguely separate!) Is it any wonder that sometimes we lose concentration on the task at hand or cart around a notebook like a security blanket, where we write ourselves reminders of the afore mentioned tasks to be done, in case we forget something we’ve already committed to, when something seemingly important crops up?
Our own personality preferences can play into this too. For example, in Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) speak, those blessed with an ‘NP’ are likely to be more easily distracted (ooh look, there’s a bird!) than the corresponding ‘SJ’ type.
As an aside – once, when facing a window while interviewing a potential team member, a shiny, orange road cone on the roof of the building opposite caught my eye. We then proceeded to spend quite some time discussing the options as to how and why it had gotten itself there. I ended up hiring the capable candidate based on the strength of his creative thinking and ability to make a compelling case – neither of which were requisites for the role but both attributes subsequently served him, and the organisation, exceptionally well.
Now where was I? Oh yes, focus …
Research has been backing up the benefits of single tasking for a while now. It seems that focusing on one thing at a time allows us to apply greater clarity to it, thereby increasing our efficiency through quality of thought and activity.
It’s not that we are doing less – quite the opposite actually – but by focusing on less, we actually give what we are doing, more.
While focusing on one thing at a time is a skill that can be learned, my experience is that you have to rally want to, to make it stick. That is, the benefit or pay-off from doing so has to be greater than the pleasures gained from anything else that prevents the single task approach.
One of the joys of being a Ripenist (i.e. smart, self-aware and at midlife) is that we surely know ourselves well enough to also know what gets in the way of our ability to focus and equally, what supports us to do our best work.
A self-employed extrovert friend says that when creating training material, she focuses best when working in a café, amongst lots of noise and the background bustle of people coming and going. When I am doing similar work, the only sights and sounds that work for me are butterflies, birdsong and the gentle snores of Spike, the Spoodle, nearby. Different strokes for different folks. The key is to know what works for you.
Recently I took part in a short experiment that encouraged me to focus on just one topic (of my choice) at a time. Single tasking. Because I was rating (and submitting to the researchers) my adherence to my goals daily, I could track how much more effectively I was tackling tasks when focusing on just that one thing at a time. While the experiment was only for 7 days, there is no doubt that I felt an enhanced sense of achievement during that week.
Part of me wants to say ‘but 7 days does not a real life make’ except that I have worked for many years with men (and a few women) for whom multi-tasking is anathema. And I did so admire their ability to get things done …
So in the interest of doing my own research, I’ve decided to carry out my own experiment in single tasking. I’m using the Pomodoro Technique of timed bursts of focused activity followed by 5 minutes of stretching, making a cuppa or doing something else. Then it’s on to another timed and focused session. While it’s early days, I’m liking it so far.
Care to join me?
What works for you on the focusing front?