02 Sep 2017 16:45 IST

Learn the art of multi-tasking to succeed

Work on prioritising effectively and focusing on multiple things at the same time

Focus usually means concentration — it could be on a goal, interest or activity. The implied context is that in a state of focus, a person should pay attention to nothing else expect the matter at hand. In other words, he/she should not be distracted by anything other than what is being concentrated on.

The mythological tale

Let me digress for a while with a story from the Mahabharata.

Dronacharya was teaching archery to the Pandava and Kaurava princes. He had asked them to aim and focus on a clay bird kept some distance away on a tree. Once all the princes had assembled and taken aim, the teacher asked them to describe what they were seeing. Almost everyone described the tree, the leaves, the sky and, of course, the bird.

This was obviously not what Dronacharya expected and his face showed disappointment. When Arjuna’s turn came, he said he could only see the eye of the bird. He said the bird itself was not visible to him, and that only the eye was in his focus. Dronacharya was mighty pleased and blessed him, saying he (Arjuna) would become one of the greatest archers of his time.

You might have heard or read this story before, as it is commonly used to drive home the importance of concentration and focus in achieving success.

A different take

However, I have a slightly different take on this story. Arjuna was operating in a relatively simpler world, where single-minded focus was easier to achieve. More importantly, his focus on only one activity did not affect other work activities.

However, the world today is very different and consists of multiple distractions that demanda person’s time, attention and focus. Let me explain this with an example.

Suppose you are in a review meeting with your boss and you receive an email notification on your phone from a customer. Can you afford to ignore that? No. Conversely, if you are attending a training programme and see a call from your boss or an important client, can you ignore it? I highly doubt that. There will be many instances where you will have to focus on two equally important things at the same time.

Magic of multi-tasking

So how do you ensure that one job doesn’t suffer because of your focus on another activity? By consciously cultivating your ability to multi-task with equal focus on two, if not more, things.

Simply put, it would be akin to Arjuna having to aim at the bird while at the same time focusing on something equally important. The capability of doing these two things with equal focus and concentration is the challenge.

Increasing technological interventions including Artificial Intelligence means that a person can no longer afford to be like Arjuna and focus only on the eye of the bird. They would have to develop the ability to focus on multiple things at the same time.

The biggest challenge — and also a constraint — about having this capability is being able to determine which activity requires priority and therefore, one’s focus. In most cases, this lack of prioritisation becomes the actual problem, more so than the focus.

Work on prioritising things more effectively and develop the capability of focusing on multiple things at the same time. That will be your competitive advantage in the years to come.

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