Much of our time is controlled by “urgent” short term noise often based on relatively meaningless demands. However, a successful career or running your own business will require clear vision, careful planning, analysis, personal growth and learning combined with clean execution.
Without citing any valid scientific evidence, and simply sharing my own belief, I think multi-tasking (beyond simultaneously listening to music and posting on Twitter) is a bit of a stretch. The word focus is overused at every turn and it is often being used in the context of juggling more than two or three tasks at once. (fo·cus: the center of interest or activity, focal point, central point, center of attention). By very definition, it is very challenging to place our center of attention on several items at once and deliver quality output. It is imperative that our day is simplified so that we are working on one thing at a time. I’m all for taking a break from one task and working on another. This is healthy. Often when you come back to a task you were roadblocked on, the ideas flow freely again. Obviously I’m referring to the “big-block” projects. Every day is interrupted with questions and phone calls and emails and meetings. It’s how you organize and approach each of these that will dictate how productive you are.
I recommend you work with a notepad beside you and create a “distraction list” as you work. It’s inevitable that while working on one thing, your mind will wander and think of a multitude of other things that need your attention. Write them down as they occur to you and get back to working on your priority. I’m certain when you go back to your list, more than half of those things that seemed so pressing will have very little importance at all.
In recent years, the monumental distraction in our lives is the presence of technology, and the false importance of social media. Studies show that Americans look at their phone once every 12 minutes, totaling a staggering 80 or so times a day, with some teens checking their screens more than 300 times a day. Consider the implications of this on productivity. Imagine anything else requiring our attention 80 times a day; Getting a snack, going to the washroom, getting a phone call, attending a meeting etc. There’s no way we would manage to get anything else done.
Hundreds of articles have been written about being present when with friends, family and work colleagues or in a meeting and keeping your phone out of sight and on silent. It can be tricky because we just feel like we’re missing something. I challenge you to try it. Put your phone on silent. Set your timer to one hour and put your phone out of sight. Now go work on something important. You’ll be shocked at your productivity. There’s more. Likely you haven’t noticed how when you’re in a face-to-face conversation and your phone rings and you answer it, you lose the attention (and possibly the respect) of that person in front of you. This is why you have voice mail. Those calling you will just have to adjust.
Finally, distractions come in all forms. For some, its simply that we’ve forgotten our goals and values, or why we do what we do. Build an action plan that manages your own distractions. Pinpoint the problem areas for you. Plan your day. Work offline. Take little breaks. Measure your progress and reward yourself.