How Leaders Can Reclaim Their Focus and Productivity

In the fast-paced world of business, multitasking is often heralded as a crucial skill. However, the reality is that juggling multiple tasks at once can undermine both productivity and effectiveness. This article explores why multitasking is a myth and offers actionable strategies for business leaders to enhance focus and efficiency.

The Multitasking Myth

Multitasking is frequently celebrated as a hallmark of high performance, especially in business settings. The ability to handle various tasks simultaneously is often highlighted in resumes and job descriptions. Yet, research indicates that true multitasking—performing multiple complex tasks at the same time—can lead to significant errors and reduced productivity.

Imagine a typical day in the life of a business leader: you’re on a zoom call discussing a critical project, while simultaneously checking and responding to emails, reviewing a financial report, and coordinating with your assistant about an upcoming client meeting. The result? Key points from the call might be missed, your email replies could contain mistakes, the financial report might not be reviewed thoroughly, and the client meeting details could be confused. This scenario illustrates how multitasking can dilute focus and lead to costly errors.

Why We Feel the Need to Multitask

In today’s business culture, the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities is often viewed as a sign of efficiency and competence. Business leaders are expected to oversee operations, manage teams, engage with clients, and strategise for growth—all at the same time. This pressure can create a false sense of accomplishment associated with multitasking.

Dr. Roz Halari, a consultant clinical and neuropsychologist at The Soke, a mental health centre in London, explains, “Multitasking affects productivity and efficiency. We are not as focused, and the brain processes information slower, leading to mistakes.” These mistakes can range from overlooking critical details in a project plan to making errors in financial calculations.

Can We Really Multitask?

Most experts agree that effective multitasking is nearly impossible, particularly for complex tasks that require significant cognitive effort. Simple tasks, such as listening to a podcast while commuting, might be manageable simultaneously. However, more demanding tasks, like developing a strategic business plan while responding to client queries, require undivided attention.

What is often considered multitasking is actually “task switching”—rapidly moving from one task to another. This constant switching forces the brain to reorient itself repeatedly, resulting in decreased focus and accuracy. For example, if a manager alternates between preparing a presentation and reviewing team performance reports, the cognitive load can lead to errors in both tasks.

The Impact of Multitasking on Health and Productivity

Studies indicate that multitasking can reduce productivity by up to 40%, leading to more mistakes and increased susceptibility to distractions. For business leaders, this can translate into missed deadlines, flawed decision-making, and decreased overall performance.

Denise Freeman, a therapist with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, observes that clients who pride themselves on multitasking often experience heightened stress, anxiety, and burnout. She notes, “These individuals appear organised and efficient but internalise significant pressure. This can lead to sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, overeating, and even autoimmune diseases.” In a business context, this can manifest as increased absenteeism, decreased job satisfaction, and higher turnover rates.

Multitasking and Relationships

Beyond personal health and productivity, multitasking can strain professional relationships. Divided attention can result in missed cues during conversations with colleagues, clients, or stakeholders, leading to misunderstandings and decreased trust.

Freeman explains, “Clients who over-rely on multitasking often become hyper-independent, pushing away help and support. This can isolate them from important relationships, leading to feelings of resentment and loneliness.” In a business setting, this can result in a lack of collaboration, reduced team cohesion, and impaired communication.

Embracing Monotasking for Better Results

The alternative to multitasking is monotasking—focusing on one task at a time. Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, in her book The Five Resets, advocates for monotasking as a strategy to protect the brain from burnout and stress. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working in focused intervals with regular breaks, can enhance productivity and mental clarity.

Consider a scenario where a project manager adopts monotasking. Instead of juggling multiple responsibilities at once, they dedicate specific time blocks to individual tasks. During one block, they might focus solely on strategic planning, and during another, they address team management. This approach allows for deeper focus, higher quality work, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Dr. Halari highlights the benefits of this approach: “Completing tasks fully boosts confidence, self-esteem, and resilience. With practice, monotasking improves concentration and overall brain performance.” Prof. Lavie’s research supports this, showing that even brief breaks can help regain focus and improve attention.

In conclusion, embracing monotasking can lead to higher productivity, better health, and stronger relationships. By shedding the myth of multitasking, business leaders can reclaim their focus and drive their organisations toward sustained growth and success.


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