Focus or Fight Fire: Why Multi-tasking Doesn’t Work

By Donna J. Spina ACC, CPC, ELI-MP

It was Sunday dinner at my parent’s house. My mom was busy in her kitchen preparing beef stew, a delicious hearty meal on a cold winter’s day. My special needs brother was nearby in his favorite rocking chair watching television.​

I was upstairs when the phone rang. I noticed the Caller ID showed it was my brother’s care giving service. My mom answered it, and a conversation ensued.​ A few moments later I heard blood curdling screams calling out my name and I raced downstairs. Much to my shock, flames were shooting out of a pot on the stove. The oil she was heating had caught fire. Instinctively I turned to the sink to get water. Then something inside me said, “No! Not with a grease fire!” Course correction: smother the flames. I frantically glanced around for the dish towel to use as a shield against the flames.​

In that same moment of panic, my mom had filled a bowl with water and threw it onto the fire. The flames shot up to the ceiling, accompanied by a mushroom cloud of smoke. The heated vapors started to travel along the counter top, covered with flammables of all types. “Call 9-1-1 and get everyone out of the house!” ran through my head. With determined resolve, I reacted with my bare hands, made a beeline for the pot lid, and tossed it onto the pot while pushing it off the electric burner.​

Everything stopped.​ We were safe.

We are all guilty of multi-tasking, and often we are proud of our ability to juggle many things at once. From this story, how effective is it to allow distractions to take your attention off of one specific course? Staying on task means making an “either/or” choice in the moment, then having the discipline to commit to each course of action in single file.​ For example, “If I take this call, I will turn off the burner first. Once the call is concluded, I can safely return to cooking the meal.”​

Multi-tasking is another way of saying:​
1. I am easily distracted to avoid what I should be doing. ​
2. I poorly manage my time by not pre-planning or prioritizing.​
3. I have not developed a support system to delegate.​
4. I resist accepting help.​
5. I have not gained clarity for what I really want in my life and business. ​

This is why multi-tasking doesn’t work. The extreme consequence in doing several things simultaneously can be disastrous – destruction of a home or even the loss of lives. Disappointing customers or clients in a competitive business world is not in your favor either. So the next time you are tempted, pause and reconsider. Many tasks are important. One, like cream, rises to the top. Do that one first while thinking the task through completely. Re-evaluate, and pick the second one. And so on. ​

Master the Art of Staying Focused.