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The Lost Art of Focusing: Confessions of a Failed Multitasker

Updated: Mar 23

Can a person really do it all (at the same time) and do it well?


This is a story about how focusing on doing less will give you a sense of purpose and help you get more done.


Young woman meditating at work.
Young woman meditating at work. Image courtesy of Africa images via canva.com.

In today's fast-paced world, the ability to multitask is often hailed as a valuable skill. We're encouraged to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, believing it leads to increased productivity an efficiency. But can a person really do it all and do it well? That's the question many entrepreneurs wrestle with daily, myself included. 

After trying to juggle more tasks than a circus clown these past few days…, I mean weeks…, well months really, I've got some real talk to share with you about the so-called 'superpower' of multitasking. In fact, I just went through a series of self-created fiascos that left me wondering ‘what the f*#! is happening’; and, no surprise, the answer I came up with was multitasking — or, more specifically, that I had stopped being present.

Sound familiar? Join me as I embrace the idea of less is more and examine how the lost art of focusing can help improve both your business and your life as an entrepreneur.


Debunking the Multitasking Myth

Here's a hard truth I've learned: multitasking is a bit of a sham. My open browser tabs are as numerous as stars in the sky, each one representing a different task I truly believe I will come back to. I listen to business podcasts while I walk my dog. I call my friends while I’m prepping dinner. I even started listening to audiobooks while I was actively working on other things. Spoiler alert: none of these activities created a productivity supernova.


In fact, multitasking is the bad guy in our story of getting things done. It's a sneaky character that whispers sweet nothings about how capable we are, all the while robbing us of up to 40% of our productivity. According to Psychology Today, when we think we're excelling at multitasking, we're actually losing a significant portion of our productive potential.


And it's not solely about being less productive. When we multitask, we're also more prone to errors and less capable of retaining information. Ever read an email while listening to a conference call and then realize you haven't absorbed a word? That's your brain on multitasking.


My personal relationship with multitasking started about a decade ago while I was working at 20th Century Fox. I was the new kid on the block and was quite literally shell-shocked when I landed in a conference room full of executives that were engaging in a group meeting while simultaneously responding to emails and texting each other on the side. My initial fight-or-flight response was to leave my phone in my office during meetings, but I soon came to realize those little messages happening during meetings weren’t just about passing time, they were full of vital information that I was expected to share during those very same meetings. So, long story short, I conformed to the group norm and about lost my mind in the process.


The Stress Behind the Juggle

Oh, and let's talk about stress, baby (insert Salt-N-Pepa rhyme here). Remember that time you tried to make dinner, help with homework, and take a business call all at once? I bet you felt like a pressure cooker on the verge of exploding. That's because multitasking isn't just inefficient, it's also a direct route to Stressville.


Research from the Harvard Business Review has indicated that juggling multiple tasks can drastically increase our stress levels. And let's face it, as entrepreneurs, our stress buckets are already quite full. We're constantly trying to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of our day, but we might just be squeezing out our sanity as well.


Case in point — I almost chopped off the tip of my finger the last time I did this. SRSLY! (Thankfully I only lost a chunk of my nail. My manicure is beyond saving right now, but at least I didn’t have to go to the emergency room.)


The Focused Alternative

What's a better approach you ask? I will argue that it's time for a shift in our work culture and highlight mastery over quantity. Focused work is the hero corporate America (or at least 20th Century Fox a decade ago) didn't realize it needed… desperately. It will come to the rescue, save the day, and help us produce high-quality work in less time 100% of the time.


But how do we resist those pesky email notifications and the illusion that we can handle everything? Here are a few strategies that have worked for me:


  • Prioritizing: Pick a few things to focus on for your business and do them well. In my world, this means creating a road map that lays out the order in which you want to achieve your goals.

  • Single-tasking: Tackle one task at a time with determined focus. Turn off your notifications, put on your headphones, or shut the door to your office. Whatever it takes.

  • Mindfulness: Stay present with the task — meditation is beneficial. Devise a practice for getting into your ‘zone’ and stay there until you are ready to move on.

By avoiding distractions and dedicating our attention to each task, we're not only more productive — we're better at what we do. We all know this right?


Time Management: A Key to Entrepreneurial Sanity

Here's where time management becomes critical. It's the dependable companion to our hero of focused work. As entrepreneurs, managing our time efficiently is vital. A Forbes article stresses that good time management is essential for your business to run smoothly.


Here are some time management skills that have been crucial for me:


  • Time Blocking: Figure out when you are at your most productive and schedule your priority tasks during this window.

  • Prioritizing: Determining what needs immediate attention and what can wait. There are so many tricks here — I like to write down what my top 3 priorities are for the week and schedule my time around them.

  • Delegating: Assigning tasks to others who can do them just as well. If you are a bootstrapped solopreneur, try looking for resources (hello AI!) that can streamline the tasks that aren’t in your zone of genius.

By honing these skills, we not only boost our productivity, we regain peace of mind.


Reclaiming Productivity

To truly make the most of our time and efforts, we must focus on our core competencies — the things we excel at. It's about playing to our strengths and managing our workload so we're not overwhelmed by tasks that don't match our skills.


Consider delegating or eliminating tasks that don't align with our core strengths. It's not about doing less work; it's about doing the right work. By concentrating on our expertise and using tools and resources for the rest, we turn into productivity powerhouses.


And trust me, when you start doing a few things exceptionally well instead of many things mediocrely, it changes the game. Not only does your business thrive, but so does your mental wellbeing. It's like clearing out your work life — you'll feel lighter, more focused, and ready to take on the world (or at least your inbox).


Bonus — If you aren’t sure what you’re best at, check out the CliftonStrengths assessment. It’s an amazing tool for understanding how you approach work and what your special skills are. I was first introduced to this concept during a Women’s Leadership Summit in New York and I’ve been a big fan ever since. I even wrote an entire blog post about it -- it's posted here if you are interested! 👩🏻‍💻


The Turnaround: Embracing the 'Less is More' Philosophy

My turnaround story is happening now. It began a few days ago when I realized multitasking was wreaking havoc on my life and decided to try and ditch the practice. I have refined my business plan to focus on only a few strategic priorities (vs the handful I had previously) and am trying to focus on activities that not only generate revenue but also bring joy. I am also trying to prioritize time away from my desk. No more business podcasts when I should be engaging with the people around me. And, guess what, by reducing the number of tasks rolling around in my head and the amount of time I’m in work mode, I am already feeling more creative and productive. (Psst — I’m also happier and my enjoyment of work has returned.)


I think this qualifies as an outstanding start. If nothing else, it’s a clear indication that focusing on a few areas is going to be much more effective than my attempts at juggling many.


And, I’m not alone, research tells us the benefits of excelling in select tasks are significant. There's an increase in quality and efficiency, but also a less obvious, yet vital, advantage: a sense of purpose and direction. It's like finding your business's guiding star and pursuing it relentlessly.


Conclusion


Here's the inside story on why I believe multitasking is the enemy of entrepreneurial success -- it's a deceptive trap, promising more but delivering less. Instead, the true power is in the skill of performing a few tasks extraordinarily well.

If your business is not progressing, take time to consider your approach. Are you trying to do too much? Could focusing on your strengths and narrowing your focus be beneficial? It's not about doing less—it's about doing the right work... and finding resources to help you with the rest. Such a change could completely change your trajectory, so why not give it a try… drop the multitasking and hone in on the tasks that require your special blend of talents. Your business (and your peace of mind) will be grateful.

Send me a note and let me know how it goes!


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About  Me 

Hi, I'm Amy! I'm the founder and CMO of the Launch Box, a boutique marketing services firm where I serve as an advisor, mentor and Fractional CMO to entrepreneurs at every stage of the startup journey. My primary mission is to help founders like you achieve their dreams by learning how to think more like a marketer. 😘 During my time off, you will either find me lounging with Zoey (my canine partner in crime) or engaging in a never-ending quest to make the perfect pizza. (SRSLY, if you want to talk about startup marketing 👩🏻‍💻, my 🐕 or 🍕, DM me anytime.

  - Amy & Zoey

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