Research consistently finds that people who multitask actually accomplish less than those who focus on one task at a time. In his book The Way of the SEAL: Think Like An Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed Mark Divine talks about front sight focus. SEALS are trained to focus on the front sight of their weapon after lining it up with target target. This keeps the SEAL super aware of his surroundings and eliminates distractions. Distractions can jeopardize their mission. Worse, distractions can get the SEAL killed.
Trying to focus on too many goals at one time may not get a business leader killed, but it can prevent him or her from achieving the most important tasks that need to be accomplished. Multitasking invites distractions. It is far better to focus on one task at a time. Once it is achieved then you can move on to the next task. Of course, the challenge is to determine which task is the most important one that must be addressed first.
John Maxwell suggests that the leader asks three questions to help determine his or her priorities. In Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success he lists these three questions.
- What is required of me? What is it that cannot be delegated to anyone else? What do you personally have to do to ensure the success of your organization?
- What gives me the greatest return? Some things give you a higher rate of return for your effort than other things you can do. Here we see the Pareto Principle in action. Twenty percent of what you do will give you 80 percent of your results. Focus on this 20 percent.
- What gives me the greatest reward? This relates to personal satisfaction. Although you don’t want to start by doing just what you enjoy most, you don’t want to ignore it either. If you do, your work will become a burden.
One other secret to front sight focus is to work as much as possible in the areas of your strengths. I know that one of my weaknesses is administrative details. I’m not a good detail person. Obviously, there are times when I have to handle administrative tasks, but if I spend too much time there I will not be nearly as effective.
For instance, I recently traveled to California to lead a conference. I had no problem preparing the material I would present. The six hour presentation was not an issue. My difficulties came when I had to arrange my flights and get a rental car. Usually, the inviting organizations arrange all that, but in this case they only got my hotel room. I had to handle the rest. I waited just about as long as I could before I called the airline and car rental company. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. I just wasn’t comfortable doing it, and quite frankly I wasn’t sure until I got to the airport and the car company that I had done everything right.
I really connected with Divine’s front sight focus. Concentrating on a single target, accomplishing that, and then moving on to the next target makes a lot of sense. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and it ensures that you’ve actually achieved the most important tasks for that day. As you work your way down the list you will know you’ve done all you can do that day to ensure your success and that of the organization. That’s a good feeling.