Running with your head cut off and the wonders of focus
Running with your head cut off and the wonders of focus
You know that feeling, when you start realizing you’re running around with your head cut off. You panic, you hurry and, most of all, you pile-up stupid mistakes.
This is what happened to me at work today. I had a first request, then a second, then a 3rd and so on. Before realizing it I was doing everything backwards, correcting mistakes I had done after correcting other mistakes. There was no ending to this!
I was getting grumpier at myself and at the people asking me to do things, was reacting more and more on impulse. There needed to be a break.
I started to visualize myself like this running chicken with no head, an English expression I like a lot. It was so true and representative! I started to draw it in my little notebook where I note every inspiration I have for this blog and more and added “Need some change”.
When all of this was over, instead of again fulminating on how crappy my job was, I tried to take the “grow” approach (the one I am striving to keep now that I have decided to continuously learn and Inspire others). I came back to my chicken picture and realized that my head was not missing, it was actually in another place, the place that it was in before receiving the first request, I was busy reading a very interesting blog written by Leo Babauta I was trying to get the most out of.
As I considered the request to be trivial and that I was going to be able to complete it quickly to be able to go back to my first activity as soon as possible, my head simply staid there.
The chicken image does look even more accurate after that isn’t it?
My body and part of my brain were running on automatic mode to get rid of the new tasks on the spot, while my head was still elevated to another level. When it came to concentrate on double-checking my mistakes, it did not come down and I missed all of it (double-checking for typos and other trivial but important features require an amazing amount of focus, much more brain power than one would think).
Which leads me to my point, focus.
Multitasking can be an option when your brain is divided between very simple tasks that you are extremely used to and you can screw-up without that much impact (getting a glass of water while watching TV or talking to a friend). And even though, sometimes you can have it wrong (spill it all when the movie gets surprisingly loud while filling the glass for instance). All in all it is not recommended as it too often makes you lose more time than you can earn (try correcting the endless mistakes you make).
The way to go is to focus on one task at the time. It is better when it is a trivial task, it is compulsory when it is an important task, especially interacting with others.
Few of the amazing benefits are:
Avoid screw-ups, even on a large scale. Focus is so important that it is recommended for almost everything, from complicated tasks to simply eating (it is claimed by many dieticians that you can completely screw it up and become huge simply by eating too often in front of television or a computer for instance).
Be effective as you will be able to finish what you are doing quicker than when multitasking. And it is also true for all your tasks cumulated. Breaking tasks around and doing them in a random fashion does not end-up lasting an amount of time that is equal to the total of each time you would have allocated to each one of them separately, because you have to factor in the “switching time” (the “what was I at already?” + readjusting time).
Own what you are doing. You know what you are doing, how and why. This last point is particularly important when you may be asked about it at a later stage.
It will reduce the bad stress increasing the good stress. For this, I consider bad stress as being completely disoriented, something closer to panicking. Good stress on the other hand is a boost of energy your body is giving you that is allowing you to perform really fast and well on a given task, closer to excitement.
And a further benefit include a lot of creative powers. I realize when I write this blog that I write the best articles by just completely focusing from beginning till end (and then eventually fine-tune it reading it again later). If I happen to leave the article in the middle, my ideas get confused and it ends up looking like an unnamed chimera with no beginning or end, and, especially, no natural flow.
Now a lot of you are like me and they multitask without even realizing it.
Focus is not a given and is something you acquire by training and making changes in your environment.
I recommend the following tricks to begin with:
Don’t interrupt what you are doing. When you are at work reading an article/ writing a report and a small pop-up informs you that you have new mail, ignore it, finish what you are doing, and then go take care of it. I’d even recommend to disable those pop-ups (if urgent people can always call you or come to your desk) and set-up times when you look at your emails, cell phone etc. (twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon for instance).
Set time and, if possible, place for what you do. Decide to focus for the next 30 min on a task, eliminate disturbances by ignoring them, or, if not possible, disenabling them (Shut down outlook, messengers, Skype, etc. or even better disconnect internet for that time. Put your cell phone in your closed bag, in a locker or, even better, turn it off, etc.). Put yourself in a closed room for this amount of time, or create a private space by putting on headphones to indicate that you are not open to conversations.
If, by any chances, you allow yourself to be distracted, even if it is for a small no-brainer task, make sure you are 100% at it. Switch your brain from the activity you were doing to the new activity. It’s important. By trying to keep most of yourself on the first activity, this is exactly when you turn into the beheaded chicken.
If your task is too long to do it at once (writing a book for instance), cut it in logical chunks (one paragraph at a time), and keep a roadmap on the side to keep in mind where you are going, when you start working on another chunk.
Ask people to leave you alone. This is very powerful as most people, when turned down, will think twice before go and disturb you again. Tell them that you’ll call them back when you are done and available, or to send you an email instead summarizing their requests. Most requests are not as urgent as people claim they are. Not only will it add to your focus power, it will also contribute in reducing your stress level, by reducing the stimuli.
Use music to concentrate (select it well because music can also very well take away your focus, just experiment and take what works best).
And don’t forget to allow switching time from one activity to another. After finishing a report, go have a hot tea, focus on the warmth of the cup in your hand, empty your brain and allow the good stress to go down a little.
Too much energy may very well negatively influence your next move. Such as, after finishing a chapter of a book, you end-up writing a novel to your dry-cleaner, who just wanted to know at what time you would pick-up your shirts.
After cooling-down, you’ll be fresh and ready for your next task to go!
In order to Inspire, you have to do great things. This is becoming excessively more simple when you practice focus.
Multitasking does not allow to create or perform, it allows to survive when no other option is at hand.