The Secret to Achieving More? Do Less – and Forget the Myth of Multitasking.
This – ‘forget the myth of multitasking’ – is the argument of the award-winning academic, corporate thinker, and motivational speaker, Morten T. Hansen – who has spent his life studying the theories and structures of management and performance in the workplace.
His thesis might at first seem a little counterintuitive. Yet, looking closer, it’s easy to see the wisdom of his words.
Because whilst we live and work in a culture whose motto could easily be ‘I have so much to do!’, we all know by now that doing lots does not mean doing things well.
Quantity has never equalled quality, in no area of our lives – not least at work.
So, as Hansen suggests, let’s look at how actually to be Great at Work – as is the title of his bestselling book. As you might expect, this is not about taking responsibility for every single task or micro-managing the workloads of all of your staff.
Rather, it’s about taking the time for yourself to give yourself to a task, to obsess over it, to make a creative mess with it. And this time can only come when you commit to doing less.
The Myth of Multitasking.
When we have too many things on the go, we don’t perform so well. This is fact: we are more likely to get stressed, fail to communicate effectively, and we rush things to try to keep up.
It’s even fairly standard scientific knowledge these days that multitasking – once a by-word for efficiency – negatively affects our ability to perform tasks efficiently and to a high quality.
Whilst, really, I think we know this to be true, we stubbornly stick to the ‘common sense’ view that multitasking is good. But we need to let go of this idea.
Pruning, Focusing, Obsessing.
According to Hansen, quality work happens when we prune our tasks down to just a handful. By doing this, we limit the temptation for distraction, we prevent that frantic, familiar task-switching (‘oh, but I should be doing this’; ‘oh, but maybe I should be doing that instead!’), and we allow ourselves to focus.
Because, just as overcommitting to too many things does not produce results, neither does simply not doing as much. Do less is half of the equation – but obsess is the part that is more important.
And, by this, we mean a total focus and wholehearted commitment. A desire to see a task through until it is perfect; a drive to do it well. A willingness to pour over every detail of a task until you can honestly to yourself, ‘yes, I have done this well – I am satisfied with the results.’
The key thing here though is that the tasks to which you commit need to be the ones that you enjoy or at which you excel. It is only these that will allow this obsession. And it is the other tasks that need to be pruned.
Creating the Space for Obsession.
But, in that ‘I have so much to do!’ world in which we live, how do we create the conditions in which obsession can be cultivated? How can we find the freedom for ourselves and from others? These are questions of both structure and mindset.
A Mindset of Healthy Obsession.
We discussed before the ways in which businesspeople, who have singlehandedly grown their firm from the beginning, often struggle to let go when it simply needs an extra pair of hands.
The movement from a mindset of comprehensive control to a mindset of healthy obsession is a difficult one to make – yet it is an essential transformation in the long run. You must let go of your desire for personal omnipresence and dedicate yourself to those specific tasks that need you specifically.
These tasks will benefit from your personal attention, whilst your business too will thrive.
A Structure Conducive to Obsession.
Yet, to make this transition easier, you implement some structural changes in your business that will give you the space for this obsession.
As we’ve discussed before, think about delegating those tasks that you don’t enjoy, or that prevent you from focusing on more important tasks. Getting someone else to do them for you might open up that space in which you can commit to the things you love.
If you already have employees, be clear about the expectations you have of them and that they should have of you. As Hansen suggests, you should feel comfortable enough to arrange so that you can work without interruption.
You could even think about batching your tasks – i.e. giving yourself space in your schedule in which you are not checking your phone or email.
Speak to an Outsourced COO.
I help business leaders think about the structure and processes of their business – precisely to optimise their efficiency, value, and personal satisfaction. I would be able to help you access your obsession and to allow your business to thrive.
Check out my article on the HOW Skill Set for more on how you can make change happen!