The Myth of Multi-Tasking

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I always thought being great at multi-tasking was an essential part of being successful in sales. At a high level this is true – you have to be able to do a lot of different things and do most of them well to be successful.  The problem is, when trying to execute, doing different things and doing them well don’t usually go together, at least not at the same time.

There’s a book called The Myth of Multi-tasking I came across recently that talks about how you brain can’t physically do two things at the same time. Your body can, but what your brain is doing to make this happen is called ‘task switching.’  Every time you do something different (take notes while trying to pay attention to a presentation) your brain is switching tasks. It does this very quickly so we don’t notice it, but the problem is that every time our brain switches a task it loses time, even if it’s just a fraction of second.  The more tasks we do the more time we lose, which is why we get less and less effective the more we try to do.  Have you ever been checking your e-mails while listening to a webinar?  If you’re anything like me, if you asked me what the webinar was about at the end or what my key take-away was, I probably wouldn’t be very specific with my answer.

There is a simple way to fix this.  Just try to focus on doing one thing at a time for a short period of time.  For instance, if you need to make cold calls, schedule an hour to make those calls and prepare for that hour so you know exactly who you’re calling and what approach you’re going to use. When you’re making those calls, just make the calls.  Don’t check your e-mail, or send information, or get coffee, etc.  You not only become more efficient with this focused approach, but you gain momentum and usually get better at whatever task it is you’re doing as you go.

Time management ultimately comes down to 3 fundamental things: 1) goal setting, 2) prioritization, and 3) focus.  If you can set good (SMART) goals, prioritize them appropriately, and focus on them for a specific period of time, time management becomes quite manageable.  This is true in how you manage your day, your pipeline/forecast, and even your career.

Good luck and happy selling.


Thanks for the very interesting article, John.

The smartest technologist I ever met (and I’ve met a lot) achieved that distinction by focus. Multitasking was a disease to him. If the fire alarm went off while he was focused on a project, someone would have to physically carry him out of the building. And when he was done with whatever thought process he was buried in, he would probably look around and ask, “What happened?”

But one step before focus is prioritization. You can have all the focus in the world, but if you’re focused on the wrong thing, it’s worth nothing. Consistent prioritization is also a difficult challenge for all of us. External pressures, emotional attachments, and our own prejudices all get in the way so what you prioritize as important today might not be so tomorrow, or this afternoon, or even after that phone call you just took.

Take away all of those distractions, set some appropriate rules, and prioritization becomes easy and consistent. That is the beauty of the ASPEC computer model and its associated Opportunity Portfolio Management training. By definition, a computer model is unaffected by extraneous influences and gives you a current list of what is truly important in your overall portfolio of opportunities. It’s then up to you to focus.

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