Multitasking Vs. Single-minded Focus – Continued.

This post is written by Kishor Kumar Dash, alumnus of IBS Hyderabad (Class of 2004). It is in continuation of our earlier post on Multitasking vs Single-minded Focus.

Let me add one more perspective to multitasking vs. single-minded focus. I think Single minded Focus is an integral part of multitasking and greatly compliments to achieve success in multitasking. To me multitasking can NOT be effective without single minded Focus. Am I sounding confusing?  In fact I am NOT. Let me explain…

Multitasking is NOT necessarily meant doing several tasks at one point of time. Rather the most important aspect of multitasking is how quickly you can switch your tasks and give your 100% attention and concentration on the switched activity as well. For example when you are preparing an important presentation, suddenly your team wanted your immediate attention and support to resolve a critical issue raised by a client. Then you need to put the presentation work on hold and then jump to the issue raised by the client and involve yourself 100% in understanding the issue and providing the solution to your team. Then once the issue is resolved you again switch to the presentation as you need to complete that task as well. The deciding factor of effective multitasking out here in the example is

1. How quickly you can switch your focus/attention/concentration from the presentation to the client issue and again back to the presentation and

2. How effectively you are switching your focus/attention/concentration and giving your 100% on the activity (the presentation and the client issue each at one time)

I believe, now I am little clearer on how single minded focus is an important part of Multitasking. In fact you can not do justice to any activity if you are not having single minded focus on the task/activity. Then obviously we can not complete the multitasking if we are not focused on whatever we are doing at any point.

Let me add one more interesting fact to the argument, Scientists have proved by research that human mind is capable of thinking in multiple (correlated and uncorrelated) topics and directions at any point of time. In fact we all experience the same in our day to day activities. Let me put an example, though I am now thinking and writing about multitasking but my mind is simultaneously planning about when I can get my books for FRM Exam and also I am answering some interrupted questions asked by my mother on some quite unrelated topics. However I am still focused and committed on my writing. Though I still understand had I NOT been interrupted by my mind and by my mother, probably I could have completed this task bit quicker. But to me this is NOT multitasking. Rather this is just a reflection of capability of human mind and brain to juggle around intermittently on different areas but not losing focus on your core task. We all normally experience the same on our daily life for example, talking when driving, Eating when watching TV, planning for a special/surprised gift for your girlfriend when sweating out in Gym etc. Is it really not strange?

Going back to the earlier example, at the time of preparing the presentation your mind still might be thinking of how exciting the IPL match was last night and so many other thing, but you would still be committed and focused on your presentation. When you switch to look into the critical client issue you still might be sharing some light jokes with your Team to make the Team bit relaxed from the tension given to them by the client query. But this intermittent activity (sharing joke) is certainly not to be considered as Multitasking.

Hope I am now making sense on Multitasking and and how single-minded focus is NOT completely isolated from multitasking.

Let’s take the discussion a step further on how multitasking plays a big role in the career growth of professionals.

Throughout our education starting from Schooling till MBA Schools, from primary teachers to the B School professors we keep on hearing about Multitasking. Even if in our professional life our line managers keep on insisting on multitasking, which for most of the Managers is one of important factor of our performance as compared to our peers. I have experienced this in my little professional journey on how Multitasking with single-minded focus required to be used effectively to survive and grow in professional environment. The example given earlier will suffice my argument.

Let me put one more school of thought arguing against multitasking that, it dilutes your concentration and focus effectively putting you in a miserable situation having poor quality on all the tasks you are doing. I do agree with this line of thought; though selectively. I will explain why Multitasking does not necessarily provide you a winning proposition always.

Coming to our first example, let’s assume that the presentation you are working on is a sales presentation to the client to be presented this afternoon which could make or break the deal for you/Company. On the other hand if the critical client issue is NOT addressed immediately the client would be extremely unhappy and might escalate the issue to the senior management. Hence you are certainly in a catch 22 situation out here. If you continue working with the presentation work you would make your existing client very unhappy and also leading to a serious escalation. On the other hand If you work on the critical client issue, you might not do justice to the client presentation which might end up with losing a perspective client. Whatever you do there is an impact on your performance as well as hitting your company’s reputation and top line. In this situation normally professionals who are good at multitasking take the risk of working on both the tasks and invariably they end up not justifying any one activity and losing the both. I hope this example would substantiate the argument to an extent that multitasking does NOT necessarily put you on a win win situation always. Hence we need to probably choose one to the other depending on what is our highest priority.

However this is certainly NOT the only solution to the above situation. As a Manager you will find yourself in a similar kind of situation at various point of time in your professional career. Hence can you afford to always compromise one activity/task every time by not choosing multitasking or would you try something different? Then the question comes what is something different? As a Manager/Leader, I think we need to address this situation with “Multitasking with Proper Delegation”. This is probably the mantra of success for professionals when they find themselves at the center of centrifugal force feeling the heat from different stake holders simultaneously.

Keep watching this space on continued discussion on the very interesting topic on Effective Delegation….

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