“If you’re like most of us, you probably take pride in your ability to multitask, to be incredibly efficient by simultaneously listening to a conference call, writing a few e-mails, and eating your salad at your desk,” writes Janice Marturano in her book, Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership.
Sound familiar? Maybe you’re trying to multitask as you read this blog post! 🙂
We aren’t just multitasking, though. Many of us are actually living (and working) in a state of continuous partial attention. Instead of giving our attention to the one thing that’s most important right now, our attention is effectively in radar mode — constantly scanning for “the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment,” as Linda Stone of The Attention Project describes it.
Exhausting, isn’t it?
But there’s a bigger issue here…
You see, our attention is the conduit that connects us to our life and work, to what’s happening in this moment.
When our attention is divided — whether by multitasking, by falling into this state of continuous partial attention, or by simple distractions — our connection with our world is weakened, meaning we get less of the world and the world gets less of us.
When our attention is focused, on the other hand, we see what’s going on this moment more clearly and we experience it more vividly.
We’ll look at how this affects our performance in a bit, but first lets look at how it affects our happiness.
Focus, Flow and Happiness
Daniel Goleman writes in his book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, that “full focus gives us a potential doorway into flow” — which Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee) calls the “secret to happiness.”
(Flow, according to Wikipedia, is the “mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”)
“Only about 20 percent of people have flow moments at least once a day. Around 15 percent of people never enter a flow state during a typical day.” – Daniel Goleman
Now it’s true that flow is often associated with doing something you enjoy. But that’s not what it’s all about.
Just think: Have you ever done something that you really love, but you weren’t in flow while doing it? Maybe your mind was actually occupied with thoughts of something else the entire time, so you “missed” a moment that should have brought you great joy? Of course.
On the other hand, have you ever been able to just “lose yourself” while doing something that you really don’t love to do? For me, I think about anything related to accounting — something that’s fresh on my mind as tax season approaches!
I really don’t like “running numbers” and reviewing reports and such, but I’ve found that when I just “settle in” and do what needs to be done, I can actually enjoy it. No, I don’t have the feeling that “I wish I could do this every day!” but I can feel that “energized focus” and “enjoy the process.”
So you see, it’s not all about doing what you love. The constant is paying attention.
By choosing to focus — to “do what you’re doing” — we can experience happiness right now, right where we are.
And now let’s talk about how focused attention affects our performance.
Focus, Flow and Excellence
Just as focus allows us to see clearly what’s happening in this moment — in this conversation, in this meeting, etc. — it also opens an unobstructed channel for our full range of talents, skills, experience and insight to flow into this moment. In other words, it opens the door for us to bring our best self to this moment.
Going back to Goleman and the idea of flow, he writes, “When our brains are in this zone we are more likely to perform at our personal best whatever our pursuit.”
That’s why Marturano identifies focus as one of the four fundamentals of leadership excellence.
“By following simple practices that hone your attention and your ability to be aware of what’s going on in your body and mind at any given moment, you can utilize all of your capabilities — clear minds and warm hearts and wise choices — and begin to see the results of leading from an authentic place.” – Janice Marturano
That’s what we all want, isn’t it — the opportunity to utilize all our capabilities?
An Invitation to “Do What You’re Doing”
Are you ready to take steps toward bringing more focus into your life?
Thankfully, we don’t have to give in to multitasking, to distractions, and to living in the state of continuous partial attention. We have a choice.
I encourage you to check out Marturano’s and Goleman’s books — linked below — and I also invite you to carry a new mantra with you this week:
“Do what you’re doing.”
When you feel the pull to start multitasking, or when you find yourself in that state of continuous partial attention, let that phrase be a reminder to bring your focus back to the one thing that’s most important right now.
This is a mantra that I recall frequently myself, and I hope it will serve you, too.
To your happiness and success –
- Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership by Janice Marturano
- Continuous Partial Attention defined by Linda Stone
- Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman
- Flow, the Secret to Happiness by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi (TED Talk)
- “Flow” defined on Wikipedia
- Mastering the Moments Coaching