19 Aug 2017 21:10 IST

Learn to prioritise and multitask

Unlike Arjuna, in today’s world, you cannot afford to be single-mindedly focused on one thing

Focus means ‘concentrating on something that could be a goal, interest or activity’. The implied context is that a person focusing on something would usually not pay attention to something else. In other words be distracted by anything other than what is being concentrated upon.

Let me digress with a story from the Mahabharata. Dronacharya was teaching archery to the Pandava and Kaurava princes and 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, Dronacharya asked them to describe what they saw; almost everyone described the tree, the leaves, the sky and, of course, the bird. This was obviously not what Dronacharya expected and his face reflected his disappointment. But Arjuna’s reply was that he could only see the eye; he said that the bird itself was not visible to him and only the eye was in his focus. Pleased, Dronacharya blessed him and said to him: “go on and shoot, you will become one of the greatest archers of our times”.

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.

I, however, have a slightly different take on this story. Arjuna was operating in a relatively simpler world where the single-minded focus was easier to achieve. More importantly, the single-minded focus to the exception of everything else did not have any downsides to it.

Different times

However, today’s world is very different and consists of multiple distractions, as also demands on a person’s time, attention, and focus. Let me explain this with an example. If you were in a review meeting with your boss and received an email notification on your phone from a customer, could you afford to ignore that? Conversely, if you are attending a training program and see your phone vibrating — you boss is calling you, or an important client is calling you. Could you ignore the call? The challenge arises because two equally important things require your focus at the same time.

This is something that you need to consciously cultivate by developing your ability to multitask with equal focus on two, if not more, things. Simply put, it would be akin to Arjuna having to aim at the bird and focus on something else that is equally important at the same time. The capability to do that is the challenge nowadays.

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 be able to focus on multiple things at the same time.

The biggest challenge, and also a constraint, to having this capability is not being able to prioritise, and therefore be unsure of what to focus on. In most cases it is this lack of proper prioritisation that is the actual problem, and not the lack of focus.

Work on prioritising things more effectively and develop the capability to focus on multiple things at a time. That would be your competitive advantage in the years to come.

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