Once it would have been regarded as rude. But nowadays people hardly show up for a meeting without a smartphone, tablet, or some other device to keep them connected to the world outside the boardroom.
Previously, we would have praised them for the ability to multi-task. But in a world where we are bombarded with messages on multiple platforms, the ability to focus is becoming more valuable by the day.
In fact, if you can focus on one thing at a time, it can give you a competitive leadership advantage by enabling you to plan and execute better, make more informed decisions, and have balance in your life.
Living in the moment – being mindful – is more than a fad. It is a mindset enabling clarity of thoughts and actions.
A lot has been written in the past on this subject and it is not a completely new idea. In her book “Basic Black,” media executive Cathie Black writes about the leadership advantage you gain when you “learn to compartmentalise.”
According to Black, your team will work more efficiently if you focus on one thing at a time. “The tone of any department, organisation, or business is set at the top, and employees will respond in kind to how their executive leads,” she writes. “An executive who is scattered and distracted will find that her team responds in kind ... ”
Being mindful is being fully present and aware of your surroundings. Paying attention to other people is the biggest form of respect you can show them and it will sharpen your ability to notice. According to Max Bazerman, a Harvard professor and writer of “The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See,” perfecting the art of noticing will lead to better decision-making.
Bazerman regards noise as one of the biggest barriers for learning and says “there is a lot of useful information available that we often do not notice.” In fact, we sometimes make the wrong decisions because we are so pressured for time. We only look at the information in front of us and don’t take the time to ask more questions.
There is an explanation for this behaviour. Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, calls it the “law of least effort.” In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Kahneman writes “ ... if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
It is, however, not just a simple case of laziness that leads us to make bad decisions. Time pressure enhances this and we make it worse when we try to do more than one thing at a time.
“One of the significant discoveries of cognitive psychologists in recent decades is that switching from one task to another is effortful, especially under time pressure,” Kahneman explains.
It just does not make sense to try to do a lot of things at the same time. You will only end up making average decisions and run an inefficient team producing a mediocre product.
It is not that difficult.
Do one thing at a time.
Clear your mind to think.
And help your team to do the same. Don’t expect your team to multi-task. Lead by example. Set a mindful tone in your organisation and you will – in time – reap the benefits in your personal and professional life.