When you're good at “multi-focusing,” you can juggle many different ideas, responsibilities, and projects simultaneously – all while remaining relatively organized.
This is not the same as what people often call multitasking: talking on the phone, reading your email, and editing a document on another computer screen, all at the same time. Some people see multitasking as a positive ability, while others as rudeness or a sign of attention deficit disorder.
Being able to sustain a multiple focus, on the other hand, is about keeping track of multiple projects at once. You move each one along, attending to each when it needs attention.
For example, at home you simultaneously work on refinancing your home, getting bids from contractors to do some necessary repairs, choosing a new health insurance plan, and handling your retirement investments.
At the office, you shift back and forth between thinking about recruiting someone for a position, preparing a report to the board regarding the last quarter's performance figures, and working with a product development group on a project that won't come to fruition for two more years. All three of these efforts need to move forward at the same time, and each one requires your focused attention in turn.
Clearly, multiple focus is a vital skill. How to strengthen this ability? Consider these ideas:
Potential useful titles include The Time Trap: The Classic Book on Time Management by R. Alec MacKenzie, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, and Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston.
Examples include the "Managing Your Time" module offered in Harvard ManageMentor program developed by Harvard Business School Publishing and the "Time Management" module available through www.worldwidelearn.com. Your company may have purchased a site license for such e-learning programs. Or, you may be able to buy a CD containing modules of interest as well as participate in them online or download them from the developer. Some developers charge a fee for participation in the courses they offer; others offer modules for free.
Find someone who you view as particularly good at multiple focus. Ask this person how he or she has strengthened this ability. In particular, ask how this individual keeps projects and activities from falling through the cracks.
Your company may offer such learning opportunities or may be willing to reimburse your tuition if you take such a course through another organization. Local university extension programs, as well as continuing education programs, may offer such workshops and courses.
Establish priorities among the many tasks facing you, and stick to those priorities.
By transforming chaos into order at home, you may clear your head enough to set priorities more easily at work.Some people seem to be able to juggle a hundred things without dropping one, all without breaking a sweat while they do it. Remember, though, that they may have more of a "duck" phenomenon going on than they let anyone see –gliding across the water without apparent effort, but paddling like mad underneath!
If you have trouble with multiple focus, don't be discouraged. Taking a more disciplined approach to your work and home life, as well as applying the suggestions offered above, can help. This is one area where technology can make a particularly huge difference in your life – that is, if you don't mind having to learn how to master new software.