There was a post somewhere, and I hate that I can’t find it so that I could cite it. I remember reading the headline and skimming the text, but then went on to other things. It was about “focus” being one of the most sought after job skills in the near future, because people these days are becoming progressively more distracted… That’s about all I remember from it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how powerful focus is and how it contradicts the multitasking concept… and how neither concept is actually possible.

It used to be that multitasking was where it was at. You almost, unofficially, had to put that in your resume or cover letter in order to be considered for most jobs, especially in tech. “I’m great a multitasking, I can split my mind in half and I’m independently ambidextrous… I use my feet, too.”

Thinking about that, what does it actually do? Sure anyone can work on multiple tasks, but tasks overlap—in time and effort. Then there’s context switching–which is part of (and totally disrupts) multitasking efforts, depending on how you handle it. In fact, true multitasking isn’t actually a thing, because no one can actually do two things simultaneously. What you’re actually doing when you multitask is constantly context switching. Getting thrown another priority task in the mix disrupts the whole effort because you need to get your mind in sync with what you need to do for that as well as keeping in mind where you’re at with the other tasks.

In multitasking, you’re constantly stopping and rewiring your brain to be able to more effectively maintain progress on multiple tasks. Looking at the other side of the spectrum, focussing on a single task for a long period of time doesn’t work well either.

You can get into the zone and totally start killing it at a single task, but you’re always going to get to a point in a task where your brain just won’t let you go any further, or you get stuck… so you stop… mess around on Slack or something to just get your mind off of it for a bit. Then you might have been in so deep that you’re scared to get back in so you make excuses to delay. Or maybe you’re done and it’s time to move to something else… Same type of wandering happens with your mind. Context switching applies to the focus concept as well. That’s a natural response, whether you have ADHD or not. The point is that true focus doesn’t exist, same as true multitasking, because we lack maintainability of focus.

From the employer’s perspective during a weekly standup, being able to talk about and show progress on several tasks is good. Showing a couple of completed tasks is also good. Which is better? For the employer? For the client? For the project? For you?

I think that everyone’s different and every situation is different AND everyone needs a little of both. I feel like I primarily succeed under focus. I have an equilibrium in my work/family/life schedule that seems to provide natural context switching in my projects… just enough to allow me to provide some good solid work before I’m forced to disconnect and then pick it back up in the evening and burn through some more great work. (I understand that not everyone can work in the evening. I’m a primarily a designer, I get inspired at strange times and just push through to illustrate my point the first chance I get… that chance is mostly at night.) I also have a ton of tasks I’m responsible for… but I only try to keep a few priorities on my plate at a time. When the time comes that there’s an emergency or expected crunch time on a task, I have to be able to sit there and burn for as long as it takes… and I actually love those times, because I don’t let them happen all the time. However if I were to put some of my other tasks into the mix at those times, what needs to get done will simply fail or become late. I do use multiple monitors to do my job, but it’s not to work on multiple things at once… It’s to use multiple sources upfront to complete a single task.

Taking all of this into account in trying to determine what’s the best approach, you have to choose what you think will be best for you. Really, you just have to listen and essentially wing it anyway. If your client belligerently wants to see several things with progress, you’ll probably have to do that, but usually you’ve got a say in the project. Even with issue tracking and project visibility applications such as Jira, no one can actually see and understand what you’re going through or how you work best. So, you HAVE to speak up. If you’re the quiet one that just does their best to do what they’re told, you’re in for a lot of stress.

So the compromise in effectively motivating oneself is Multi-Focus. If I was famous like a Kardashian, I’d coin that term, because I think a balance is what is going to be important in the near future… and it kinda belongs to Atlassian.

I think of it in terms of naturally how Jira works. But on a more personal level. That being said, Jira, or at least something like Trello, are instrumental in managing how you use focus across a large number of tasks.

If you’re on a functioning team using Atlassain products with agile, the following is more or less what you’re expected to do, but I think it’ll help if I explain it in a more direct way to help your mind manage it appropriately.

Let’s say there are a plethora of projects you’ve been asked to do. You grab a few to show (yourself and whoever needs to see what you’re doing) that these are the ones you’re working on. (Probably best to only have no more than three.) Of those, you grab one and you jam solely on this task for as long as you can (or until it’s done or you’re stuck.) Then, you move it to the bottom of that column and grab the next. It’s really just a simple thought. You just work on ONE thing at a time but keep a queue of a couple to switch to when you need them. Don’t even look at the rest unless you need to or unless you move something to done. I like the Trello app. because it makes more sense to scroll those pending tasks off the screen, and it can be more personal management than Jira. You can still have visibility from stakeholders, but it feels more like you’re controlling where it all goes. But I use both. If you can put the endless flow of tasks out of your mind, you can focus on what you’re working on more efficiently.

My boss is probably going to say, “This is what I’ve been trying to tell you for 8 years.” … You did, and I listened and lived by it, but I think that, for me, it’s more of a mental thing that needs a little bit of an optimized explanation for some people. 🧐

This way, you’re completing projects faster than you’re stacking up what you’re working on, and you’re not BS’ing anyone by telling them that you’re working on “so many things at the same time”… Admit it… You’re not really multitasking. You’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to work on first and using it as an excuse. The key is just to take control of it and do it the best way that works. One at a time.

Just a disclaimer: I haven’t actually ever BS’d my boss. It’s a concept I gathered from experience. I feeeeeeel like I want to make that clear.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *