How Elite Level Artists Keep Focus High

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No one in the world can do two things equally well at the same time. It is not possible. In fact, both tasks will likely suffer. Multitasking is a term we’ve adopted to make ourselves feel good about excusing less than superior performance. If you challenge someone about this, they will most likely get defensive with you and proudly declare that they don’t have time not to multitask. It is an essential part of their job.

The term multitasking originated in the computer engineering industry in the mid-1960s when it was used to refer to a microprocessor’s ability to seemingly process multiple tasks at once. In fact, the reality is that due to the speed involved, even though it looks like the computer is doing several things at once, it is actually doing one thing at a time quickly.

Multitasking with people happens when we try to give our attention to more than one thing at the same time. Have you ever followed someone driving a car and texting? The vehicle most often drives back and forth, crosses lines and poses a serious threat to those around it. This also happens when someone is talking on their cell phone while driving. They focus on operating a multi-thousand pound machine and have a conversation simultaneously. Neither gets the attention it deserves. This is the effect of multitasking when split focus occurs, and the effectiveness of each individual task decreases as you add tasks and separate focus from each. Can you imagine the efficiency of trying to do three things or five things at the same time?

Multitasking doesn’t happen when you have more than one thing moving, but other things don’t require your attention. Let me explain. If you’re finalizing a report and making coffee, you’re not multitasking. You put the water in with the coffee grounds, flipped the switch, and left to do something else. The coffee maker does not require or get any of your attention. Therefore, it does not qualify as multitasking.

Leaders do people a serious disservice when they set expectations for people to do more than one thing at a time.

Elite-level performance comes from focus. Concentration comes from elimination. Performance decreases as you add more items. Performance increases as you delete items. Researchers have proven that people get an injection of endorphins into the chemical system when they cross things off their list. A sense of accomplishment is good for the system. Can you imagine the stress on a person’s system as things keep adding up? Surely you have already experienced this with a computer. What happens when you have too many things open on your desktop at once? The system slows down to a sluggish slow pace.

Psychologists and human behavior studies have found that the same thing happens to human beings when we have too many “open loops” or too many things “hanging out there” waiting for us to come back to them and get them. let’s close. Think about driving a nail into a wall. Our answer to these open curls is to go around each nail a few times. Some enter a little and others a lot. Some get twisted because we don’t hit them straight or because we rush. Some need to be removed and replaced. Wouldn’t it be better to drive each nail correctly and firmly, driving it all the way to the bottom of the wall?

How to increase your focus:

  1. Daily goals. Decide in advance what your top three to five goals will be for the day.
  2. Peak hour. Everyone has times of the day when they feel best, have more energy and are most efficient. Plan your toughest projects during this time.
  3. No communication area. If possible, establish times of day when you won’t take phone calls or respond to emails. Focus on your project.
  4. Mini milestones. Set small goals that you must achieve before you stop working or take a break. Most experts agree that 90 minutes straight before a break is optimal.
  5. Group. Group small tasks such as phone calls, emails and errands into one session.
  6. Up early. If possible, get up at 5 a.m. and go straight to work on your most difficult or important task. Most of my clients who do this do more before 8 a.m. than others all day.
  7. Take the beat. You need to stay focused on the task at hand when doing this, but walk faster, talk faster, type faster, read faster. Do it right, nail it, and go home sooner with more accomplishment.

Tony Richards is an organizational and executive development expert and CEO of Clear Vision Development Group, a leadership and strategy firm in Colombia. He is one of INC Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers and Thinkers. His company website is www.clearvisiondevelopment.com. Follow Tony on Twitter @tonyrichards4.


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