If you ever hear someone brag about how great they are at multitasking, hold your applause. The truth is — they suck at doing many things at the same time
“It’s a trap.” — Admiral Ackbar
Human progress has always reflected our ability to multiply our efforts. We hunted and gathered. We ate dinner in front of the television. In 1983, you could only talk on a mobile phone. Look at you now. Checking your apps while reading this blog post.
Human evolution is speeding up faster than ever. If information is power and presence is power, we should be feeling pretty amazing about our Jedi-like ability to do so many things at once. Right?
Multitasking is a fraud
If you ever hear someone brag about how great they are at multitasking, hold your applause. The truth is — they suck at doing many things at the same time. Multitasking makes us less smart, less productive and it even makes us fat. No joke. Less focus = less willpower = bad decisions in the shape of a 12” cheese pizza and three beers.
What drives you to multitask is how it increases your ego. It’s the shots of dopamine. You feel like you’re getting more done. Of course, this is all mind manipulation. It sounds better to say that you’re working on 10 different opportunities than focusing on one thing. Having one single goal sounds like you lack ambition. Or maybe you’re just not good enough to be properly “busy”.
Think again. Humans are not biologically wired to do so many things at one time. When we try, it’s like pressing the accelerator so we can cover 100 kilometres on half the amount of gas in a quarter amount of time. It’s an accident waiting to happen.
Can’t focus? Grab the fire extinguisher
Focus is a finite resource. Every time you make a decision some of that brain power burns away. Now imagine this: On average, you are making 35,000 decisions every day. If you’re running a company, throw in a multiple into that equation. Then ask yourself why your performance is slowing down. Why are you getting less accurate? And why is it that the only thing you want to do after a long day is crash on the couch and watch bad TV? Answer: You’re running on and out of reserves.
When I sold my second company I was working on 7–10 projects at the same time. I wanted to be hands on but didn’t have the time to give each project the focus it needed. The result? Still working on the very same projects one year later, progressing at the speed of a snail. Without the momentum I couldn’t feel the passion I needed to be motivated, and worse, I couldn’t get things done.
Now I know it’s because I was spreading my focus too thin. By multitasking I couldn’t go deep into how to get those projects off the ground and make them great. Picking your focus tells what you will spend your time on and what you’ll be good at.
Focus is the key to success
There are three ways to stay on track.
We have identified multitasking as the enemy. The one in the way of progress. The deterrent to achievement. What can you do to develop a laser-like focus to fight it? Three things will set you on your way: 1) commit to one thing, 2) train your expertise and 3) get into flow.
1) Pick one thing and stick to it
“Focus on the key thing, focus entirely and shut down everything that blocks you from that” — Gary Keller
It sounds extreme, but drastic times call for drastic measures. By saying yes to one thing you just have to say no to every other option. It’s time to quit FOMO, pick one thing and run with it.
At HotelQuickly we say “yes” to building the #1 app for hotel booking in APAC. This means the company says no to 200 other things that we might do and everyone else could be also doing. Why? Companies that stand for 200x everything stand for 1x nothing. With a clear edge of “focus” you can cut through the average and go straight to the peak. The upsides are worth it. What’s better than everyone aligned with focus on what they should be doing? How good is it not to have to stop and decide where to go every minute of every day and just be executing instead?
2) Take the leap & go deep
Focus makes you an expert. So invest your energy and become a master of one thing. It will send out a clear message about why people should (or should not) follow you and thus attract the right kind of people to your focus.
A lot of entrepreneurs get caught in the trap of doing too many easy things instead of focusing on that one hard thing. They adopt the magical ability to be in many places at the same time. They’re at conferences and embody multiple roles like “advisor”, “mentor” and “board observer”. All in different companies that do different things.
The reason why people get attracted to this is because it’s easy to feel good about it. Other people will make you feel good about it. You are busy, you do many things = you are “important”. But if you want to be successful, don’t give in to distraction. Fight the urge for instant gratification and focus on what will make you successful in the first place.
3) Tap into your flow
“Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Focus requires energy. When you have that energy, when you have that focus, after a while you get into a state of “flow”. The father of flow theory, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, actually identifies flow as the key to happiness. “Human happiness is dependent on the ability to fight the chaos and focus energy in one direction… focus will simplify the chaos and will bring you joy and achievement.” So focus makes you successful AND happy! Remember though, you can only get into flow when you’re not distracted.
Do you remember the moments of “no distraction”, when you get into flow with your team? When the whole team is on the same page and moving in the same direction… it’s an awesome feeling! At that moment, we are where we are supposed to be. All the effort to make things happen seems to disappear. There’s an energy about it that translates into a sense of purpose.
The power of focus goes beyond fighting multitasking. It leads you down a chosen path and drives your achievement.
So if you want develop focus, just commit to start.
1) Stick to one thing. Get into your task for the first 15 minutes. It will get easier down the road. If you face distraction, put it on the side. Write it down on a sheet of paper and revisit it later.
2) Be an expert in your field. To quote a celebrated master Bruce Lee: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Do you really want to play on same mediocre level as everyone else, or do you want to kick it?
3) Go into your flow. With it comes a sense of purpose and fulfilment, and you’ll end up being happier too.
Teach your brain that focus is good. If you are sweating it till you burn out, your brain will remember this as a “not so pleasant experience”. Don’t underestimate the power of the Dark Side of multi-tasking.
In the end, don’t forget to reward yourself for your hard work. It is a battle worth fighting.
In the fight for focus, you will meet your destiny.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.
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