Focus, Effectiveness & Guarding What’s First in Your Brain
Last week’s blog suggesting you actively take charge of managing the
internal conversation and focusing process in your head, got me thinking
about the role of what is first or top of mind. That led to marketing, the
advertised perils of “multi-tasking” and how it all works like a manual
transmission and a card deck in our brain. Ready for this? Stay with me,
I think I can give you a couple of valuable tips by the time we wrap up.
By-the-way, have you ever said to someone, “Just let me get to this first”
when asked to do some additional task? There’s a reason why based upon
our brain function… I’ll explain later.
Top or First in Your Mind:
Here’s the first working premise:
1.Whatever you put first or at the top of your mind’s focus,
2. you end up spending time resources on
(you literally buy with seconds from your life), and you do so
3. becomes it’s at the top (foremost in your attention),
4. not because it is the most valuable.
Ries and Trout gave an interesting twist to the concept of what’s first in your
mind when they wrote about it years ago in their 22 Immutable Laws of
Marketing. Their first law is that it is better to be first (into a market) then
“better”. We now know that that’s more accurate when defining the initial
cycle in a market…often better catches up and suplants first, ex. “Apple’s
iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it beat out the ones that came before it.
But what if that applies to your brain and how you personally manage
information? I think it does.
Let me restate it another way (ultimately it will be better when you put it
into your own words). You might want to think about what you let in to
occupy your top of mind thought process.
Be careful what you raise to the top of your attention list,
it eats your resources, regardless of whether or not it is valuable.
So think about this, you’re working on something important, should you
keep checking your email to see if anything has come in (e.g. replace top
Should you keep listening for the sound of incoming tweets, IMs, how
about Outlook’s display of the Desktop Alert?
What’s your answer? Having lots of availability, turns out to mean, in part,
that you have lots of opportunities to replace what’s first in your mind, over
and over again throughout the day. Does it work for you?
The answer is no, probably not. It would be like drawing a hand of cards,
and someone keeps changing one of your cards as you’re trying to work out
a strategy. Ultimately you would get access (view) to a lot of cards, but it
would be very slow going in terms of putting together a strategy. So there’s
something about fixing the card deck and not reshuffling or drawing that
can be important at times.
Actually, if you can tolerate being focused, not introducing
something “new” to your attention scan, to the number one spot
in your deck, it makes completing almost any project easier and quicker to
So be careful about how accessible you make the number 1 spot in your
immediate focus. Look around your desk, your monitor, I bet there’s some
distractions you have lying about that are just waiting to grab the #1 spot,
even though they can’t justify it based on value.
This brings up the issue of multi-tasking. Actually lately it seems multi-
tasking gets a bad wrap. I just got another email for a course So You
Think You Can Multitask: in which Dr. Joanne Cantor is to demonstrate
just how inept your brain is at multitasking, how information overload
reduces your creativity, and how recent brain research shows that constant
connectivity to our devices is antithetical to doing good work.
OK, that all makes sense. I don’t deny that multi-tasking (trading multiple
topics through your Number 1 brain space in rotation) can prevent you from
having access to the kind of focus you need for some, maybe even a lot of,
tasks. But actually most executives I know, multi-task rather successfully
off and on all day long. So how do they get away with it?
Get this – the key is to to have different gears, to be able to switch,
to treat your mind like a transmission. Sometimes you shift into
multi-tasking, and when the road warrants it, you then switch to another
gear, maybe a lower gear, let’s call that single tasking. The key is – How
easily can your brain process the tasks(s) you are working on. If you can
do it in your sleep, you have a lot of extra neurons waiting around for
something else to do. If it’s very challenging, better put your calls on hold,
your IM on Out of Office, and turn off the mail notification, #1 in your brain
needs to be reserved for all of your undistracted focus.
The key is actively matching your mental gearing or single vs multi-tasking
to the task demands, as opposed to what other people demand of you, or
perhaps what your preferred pattern is.
It’s an interesting process isn’t it? Looking at what drives us, or should
drive us to place a task in the #1 spot on our attention list, and how much
effort we put in place to protect it in that spot… versus almost invite any
intrusion. Maybe I should retitle this blog the lost art of creating and
working priority 1. I certainly see that reflected any many
ManagPro company portfolio’s I get exposed to, and how how they have
far too many items designated as Priority one, then they can possibly
focus on effectively.
#1 in our focus, our attention, our brain, is a very important place. On
some level we put off everything else in deference to what’s #1. So be careful.
Guard the number one spot from distractions you have control over,
including an array of collaboration tools.
And be sensitive to the tasks you’re engaging in, and get heads up about
switching from multi-tasking to single-tasking when the value/challenge
/immediacy of the tasks requires it. You’ll like the results and your brain
will thank you for it. Is that possible? It sounded good when I wrote it, so
I’m leaving it in.;)
But honestly what do you need to do to make this all work better starting
tomorrow? I start by confirming my priorities are value-based, then
“landing” my priorities on my ManagePro calendar and blocking out time.
They aren’t really number 1 if they don’t get priority on my schedule.
How about you?