A few days ago, my wife and I met a friend for dinner. I had not seen her for some years, as she decided to move on to live, and work overseas. We have been friends since we were both fifteen, and she knows my career, and entrepreneurial trajectory, over the years.
As ever, it was a fun night of laughter, and revelry between old friends. But something she said made me think about my work-life, and how I keep my energy levels up.
She asked me how my work was. I told her what I did. From my training and coaching consultancy, to authoring books, to owning and running a restaurant, and comedy club, to managing my wife’s veterinary practice. She seemed quite concerned with the toll such a busy work-life might have on my health.
It made me think about how I manage these multiple ventures? And, please forgive me if I sound like I am bragging by listing the businesses I am involved in. Of course, I am pleased with what I do, but the truth is, many of the ventures I have undertaken in the past have failed badly.
In reflecting, I realise that my passion to be relevant, drives me.
When I feel that I understand how to do something; as we all do from time to time; I take action. I think many of you have dreams about owning your own business, or pursuing a career which you think you are passionate about.
But, most people don’t take action. They limit their thoughts by attaching conditions before they start anything. They say to themselves; “…when the kids are older, I will start” or they might think “…I need a fixed income, and I cannot risk the uncertainty of being self-employed”, and so on.
Perhaps, it is just that I have worked out how to circumvent these restrictive thoughts in my mind.
What I know for sure, that helps me with my work, is that I have learnt to manage multiple tasks. Note that I do not say ‘multi-tasking’. Instead, it is doing multiple tasks, in a mindful manner.
For many years, I was very proud that I was able to ‘multi-task’. In jobs interviews, I would proudly claim that this was one my biggest strengths. Fortunately for me, most HR practitioners were, and are possibly still sold on this myth, and I got hired.
Today, when I employ people, I disregard their claims about being proficient at multi-tasking. Because from experience, I know that this is not a desirable skill. In fact, it is counter-intuitive for most of my businesses, and my consulting practice.
Research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University indicate that people spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing at that moment. Their research shows that often people are mentally off-task, and this in turn, leads to unskilful choices, and sub-optimal results.
The word ‘multi-tasking’ denotes your ability to do more than one thing at a time.
To some extent, we all multi-task. I am sure you can walk, while talking on the phone. Or, you can fold your laundry while chatting with your wife. This form of multi-tasking works because these are repetitive or rote tasks that don’t require much thinking.
But unfortunately, that is where the benefit of multi-tasking stops.
Even I get into trouble with my wife for either folding her clothes badly, or not remembering something important she told me, while I do the laundry at home.
If you really want to be successful at work, or in your relationships, or if you want to be proficient at something, you must be mindful.
Being mindful is pretty simple. You must just learn to fully focus on what’s happening, and to pay attention to what you are doing. The trick is to be entirely aware of the present moment, and to concentrate on it.
Mindfulness requires you to actively set aside your expectations, anxiety, or speculation about what might happen in the future. This is one of the crucial ways to become skilled at what you do. You must be actively present.
I am able to manage the various parts of my work-life, and businesses simply by being present in the moment, while I am doing them.
For instance, as I write my column for this week, I have informed my team in the office that I need two-hours without any interruptions. This allows me to be present, as I gather my thoughts, and write. I choose to be mindful of my task at hand.
Similarly, when you are at work, park your other distractions aside; do not answer non-work related calls or messages, unless in an emergency; and catch yourself from allowing your mind to wander away. You do not have to forget these thoughts. Just suspend them until you are ready to resume thinking about, or acting on them.
Focus on one thing at time, that way you end up being able to do many things, skilfully.
Shankar R. Santhiram is a managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”