Updated: Jan 13, 2019
One important attribute that successful people tend to tend have in common is focus. Defined as "the centre of interest or activity" (Oxford Dictionaries), focus is simply about putting your mind and energy into one thing at a time.
Give up trying to multitask
So you think you can scroll your social media page and study at the same time? Cook a meal whilst you chat away on a phone call? This would be evidence of multitasking, right?
We tend to fall for the belief that we can effectively do more than one thing simultaneously, but at best all you are doing is switching quickly between tasks (much like a Windows task bar). This gives you the illusion that your are multitasking, when in fact according to neuroscience research, your brain is simply making a quick change in focus from one activity to another.
So for instance, when you are trying to write an email whilst listening to someone talk, you are not actually listening properly and you are also prone to making errors in your email. Your attention will be constantly moving between these two situations.
Try doing one thing at a time
As simple as this sounds, 'monotasking,' or single-tasking is the key to not only doing things well, but in getting more done. Psychologist, educator and author, Dr JoAnn Deak is a strong advocate for this and she encourages managers and leaders to help their teams perform better by setting up a series of clear and specific tasks that can be completed one a time. So for example, setting up a time-frame to read and reply to emails, a separate schedule to prepare for a meeting, and another to return phone calls.
Single-tasking can also help ward off overwhelming stress levels that multitasking often leads to. This is because individuals are more likely to feel a sense of achievement after completing a single task, have been able to focus without the frustrations of other distractions or competing demands and can maintain a steady mental capacity over the duration of the working period.
Take a break
Scheduling breaks or rest-periods following the completion of tasks, especially those that require heavy concentration or exceed an hour, can help to reset the mind before proceeding to the next task. Going for a walk or other change in activity or pace during the recovery period is a great way to prepare for the next demand.
Learn to schedule
Lastly, another effective option is to allocate regular tasks or events to specific times of the day (or days of the week). For example, Monday morning sales review, Tuesday afternoon meetings, Wednesday staff professional development and so on. This helps to establish routine, predictability and, ultimately, more productivity.
So remember, the next time you find yourself multitasking you are not actually being as productive or efficient as you might like to believe. Be bold and cut yourself off from everything else other than what really requires your focus.
By Katherine Hurrell, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist, Sydney, Australia