The world is changing, and faster than it ever has before, and so the demands to do more with less time and resources continue. A 2016 report by the CSIRO and Australian Computer Society, Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce, predicts that nearly half of the jobs in Australia are at risk of computerisation and automation.
If you’re not focused on how you need to respond to this changing environment, it is very easy for your career to stall and go backwards. However, finding the time to manage change and the ‘business as usual’ is challenging, particularly as there are competing priorities and often those priorities change. It can feel like there are not enough hours in the day, and there is lots of noise, information and things vying for your attention.
Multi-tasking is a myth
Being able to multi-task was seen as the antidote for the busyness that surrounds today’s work environment. Indeed, people prided themselves on being good at multi-tasking. The problem is that multi-tasking is making the problem worse. Have you ever counted how many times a day you check your emails or social media? When you’re alerted to a new email, SMS or social media item do you quickly switch your focus to that alert? You may be surprised with the answer.
When you multi-task your attention is fractioned, and as you switch from one activity to another you lose concentration and ultimately, become less productive. This is because a person’s brain isn’t wired to handle multiple issues simultaneously or to rapidly switch backwards and forwards between tasks. Each time you switch from one task it takes time for your brain to focus and refocus. This switching can result in it taking 25% more time to finish the primary task you were working on.
When you combine a frenetic pace of change, with the need to get lots done and the ineffective use of multi-tasking, there’s a real danger that you achieve little because your attention is fragmented and unfocused. You keep peddling hard, but you are getting nowhere. You aren’t making change happen.
Progress requires the three A’s
To make progress and enable higher quality more productive work think about how you can apply the best attitude, attention and aptitude to your work.
- Attitude is a state of mind that means you are conscious of precisely what you need to get the job done effectively and efficiently. It’s about being prepared to listen and reflect, and being present with the task at hand. This targeted concentration enables you to ignore the distractions and extraneous activities that divert you from making progress.
- Attention is about being focused on the task in front of you and giving yourself enough time and space to devote to it. This involves doing work in dedicated chunks of time. Highly productive people will tell you that they time-box their work day, and set aside the morning for highly complex thinking. They also ruthlessly manage their schedule to ensure they don’t waste time. They know how to use their brain energy purposefully.
- And lastly, aptitude is about being really clear on the purpose of the task and having the plans and patience to carry them through. This is about knowing what you need to pay attention to and prioritising your focus accordingly. It’s also about being clear on why you want to do this because if the motivation is missing it will be hard to follow through.
If you feel like you aren’t making enough progress or gathering enough momentum to make real progress at work every day think about what you can do to stop fractioning your attention.
Michelle Gibbings is a change and leadership expert, founder of Change Meridian and the author of Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.