We largely reject the notion that the ability to multi-task is a good thing. How many of us know those people who always seem to have a bunch of things they are trying to simultaneously get off the ground, and yet seem to perpetually come up empty-handed? Look around and you will see them everywhere: 100 things they are trying to do at one time and not accomplishing any of them with any particular degree of quality. They perpetually miss deadlines and sacrifice quality in their work, and fail to realize that they lose more professional credibility and integrity with each passing day. These are the Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none types. These are the “inch-deep-mile-wide” people with a million good ideas and good intentions that just flail around. Many of them are supremely talented, and yet amazingly ineffective. Hilariously, they are the same ones who will brag about how amazing they are at multi-tasking. In their own eyes, this is a badge of honor. Regardless of their natural abilities and relationships (at least the few that last over the long term), they largely end up being thrown on the trash heap of failures.
Why is this? Because it is impossible to focus – and we mean really intensely focus – on more than one thing at a time. At least if one wants to do that thing well. Otherwise, the results are littered with half-done jobs and initiatives. A quick scan of the most of the successful business people out there reveals that they do one thing at a time – and do them really well. Think of this as the hedgehog concept explained by Jim Collins. This is a particularly difficult and common issue with entrepreneurs, who constantly run low on time. Some of these same entrepreneurs also feel it incumbent upon them to hedge their bets by exploring several ideas at the same time
We understand all of these dilemmas. Entrepreneurs are people who, by definition, must wear many hats to make their businesses successful – particularly early on. They are typically generalists who must wring every ounce of their talents and versatility out of themselves that they can each and every day. There is, however, a big difference between the ability to juggle multiple priorities and tasks, and the multi-tasking that is so celebrated by so many. Juggling and balancing multiple priorities and tasks is a talent that all business leaders deal with. Indeed, the effectiveness of that balancing act is what separates the champs from everyone else. But what they also do is an amazing job of priorities – basically keeping the main thing the main thing – on a regular basis. And when they choose to spend time on something, they focus on it intensely until the job is done or at a natural stopping point. What they definitely avoid is literally trying to do more than one thing at a time, and that is why they avoid half-baked products and services, and unpredictable, halting progress on initiatives.
At the end of the day, the success of most businesses is a function of their ability to execute. And that execution is dependent on prioritization and deliberate focus on those priorities. Don’t fall victim of the distraction of multi-tasking that creates a too much activity and too few victories.