If you’re not where you want to be professionally, nine out of 10 times, focus is what’s missing from your success story.

We live in a world where multitasking is praised. If you can tweet, write, research and do the chicken dance all at the same time, you’re considered a go-getter.

The truth: multitasking puts stress on the brain and can actually shrink memory receptors. That’s according to Dr. Gary Small, a UCLA memory specialist and author of “The Memory Prescription.”

If that’s not enough, multitasking actually decreases your IQ. According to scientist Harold Pashleer, when people do two tasks at once their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old.

Studies aside, we all know from experience that multitasking robs us of deep quality understanding and only allows high-level deliverables at best. The multitasking grind might possibly sustain you and your company’s current level of success, but it will not elevate it. To rise, you must focus.

Unfortunately, after years of multitasking, your brain is not trained to hone in on one activity. The good news, you can retrain your brain and build your focus muscle.

Up until a few decades ago it was commonly accepted that a human’s brain stopped developing in adulthood. Neuroplasticity studies prove that this is not true. Changes in behavior, environment and neural processes alter an adult’s neural pathway and synapses.

The University College London’s cab driver study found that London cab drivers’ hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for spatial representation capacity, is larger than those of London bus drivers. Since a bus driver stays on the same route, his or her hippocampus is not flexed and therefore not as developed. Conversely, the cab driver is constantly engaging his or her hippocampus to spatially reconfigure routes based on spontaneous and ever-changing rider requests.

Bottom line—you must flex your focus muscle. Here’s how:

  • Do the big thing first. Identify your top priority and put on your blinders until that task is completed. Some tips to accomplish this: 1.) Share your top priority with the rest of your team. This enables accountability. 2.) Pinpoint your top priority the evening before. This will ensure you’re on task as soon as you hit the office in the morning. 3.) Write it down. One Petra Coach member in Orlando, Carla DeLoach, uses note cards. She writes one thing on three cards and keeps them with her throughout the day. Once she completes the task on one card, she allows herself to move onto the next. The structure and written reminders helps her stay on track.
  • Purge the little things. Sometimes all our little tasks act like mental roadblocks. They make us anxious and keep us from accomplishing our top priority. The Mayo Clinic suggests releasing all the little things from your mind by writing them down. This will cure your anxiety because you know that they are all accounted for in another space.

You’ll also find that little tasks oftentimes take care of themselves while you’re accomplishing more important things.

  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone and email and sign off Facebook. Rings, bings and pings just detract you from what’s really important. When you feel like checking your texts and posts, ask yourself this question: Am I wasting my time to avoid the important? Eight ball says, “It is decidedly so.”

If you’re still with me, congrats—you’ve worked out your focus muscle!

I’m almost finished. I will leave you with a Marcus Aurelius quote:

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”


Originally published in The Tennessean

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