Giving Yourself Permission to Focus

focus-22We know multi-tasking is bad news. Ultimately, it doesn’t help you but rather hurts you in the long run.

In Jeff Toister’s post titled, “Why Multitasking Hurts Customer Service“, he writes:

“Employees who multitask risk making errors. They risk making their customers feel ignored, neglected, or misunderstood. Multitasking tends to slow things down despite a whirlwind of activity that makes us feel like we’ve actually sped things up.”

So how the heck are you supposed to get it all done then?

I know that multitasking doesn’t help me get stuff done faster and I definitely know from experience that I make more mistakes when trying to do 10 things at one time. I used to pride myself on being able to juggle. But these days, now that I know it’s not effective, I am finding it extremely difficult to stop the juggling.

I had a conversation with Jeremy recently about this topic and how I have a really difficult time being able to focus on just one thing. He then told me this:

“You don’t give yourself permission to focus.”

It hit me, right then and there, that I nope, I sure do not give myself this permission. I tell myself that I need to handle many tasks at one time, jump from them with lightning speed to ensure that everything gets completed. If I’m not doing things this way, I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I feel absolutely guilty for not giving my time to 10 things at once. Why? I really don’t know. It could be a lot of old rules I have learned in my 30 years of life in our culture of constant distractions. But, I can tell you this–I leave work at the end of the day, feeling exhausted and not having completed any one goal I set for the day. How is that beneficial for anyone in a leadership position?

The idea of telling myself that it is OK to focus on one task at a time is completely foreign. While I know it’s the more efficient way to be, it’s extremely challenging to try to break the multitasking habit. 

Anyone else with me here?

So how do you kick the habit and allow yourself to focus on one thing at one time? How can you efficiently work in a busy customer service center this way and actually get things done?

While I don’t know the answer, I am on a mission to find out.

I hear from people who DO have focus and have found that:

  1. The higher quality of the service they give to others.
  2. The feeling of accomplishment with their daily tasks.
  3. An overall sense of fulfillment.

How do I plan to begin?

Beginning Thursday, May 1st, I am going to unveil a 30 day mission:

Permission to Focus

What my “Permission to Focus” mission will consist of:

Main Goal: To give myself permission to focus on one task at a time.


  • If I am working with a co-worker or customer, I will give that individual my full attention. I will close my browser, email and IM to avoid other distractions.
  • I will disable my email/IM pop up notifications to avoid having to even be tempted.
  • If I have an urgent situation, I will analyze the severity and if it means dropping what I am doing to work on it, I will do just that…work on it. Not that and the other thing I was also working on.
  • I will be proactive on scheduling time with others to ensure that I have dedicated time set aside to put focus on their situation.
  • I will post a blog every week or so that gives insight into what I am experiencing with this to hold myself accountable.
  • I will tell myself it is OK to do all of these things. And, believe it.

Foreseen Challenges:

  • Wanting to help everyone that asks me for help and having a difficult time saying, “Not right this moment.”
  • Differentiating between the urgent/non urgent tasks for customers and coworkers.
  • Setting up boundaries between myself and others who are used to me jumping at multiple tasks immediately.

I don’t plan on being a master of this. But, if I could be just 10% more focused on a daily basis, I feel work and personal life would benefit significantly.

Steve Jobs said:

That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

And it does seem right that “simple can be harder”. By multitasking, you are taking simple and making it way more difficult than it has to be.


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  • I look forward to following this in the next 30 days, Jenny! You should survey our team before and after about their overall impressions of your internal customer service. I think in many ways, we probably force you to multitask because you’re such a great support person. That potentially is great for CSRs but unhealthy for you. This may not be fun for our support team but I think a redefinition may be in order. Ultimately, we want a healthy and effective Jenny!

    My second thought is that I heard a guy on a TED talk say women are better multitaskers than men. His example was his wife cooking dinner and tending to the kids at the same time. My response is that this is completely false. My wife looks like she wants to punch me when I get home from work after she attempts to cook dinner with young children in the house. I’m more convinced than ever that we shouldn’t require or expect people to multitask.

  • Thanks Jer!

    What questions do you think I should ask on the survey? Would love to have your insight on that.

    I can only hope that, with this jump into focus-land, it shows the team that as a leader, I respect the work they do and want to make sure I am fixing the problems as effectively as possible. I also hope it inspires them to also take time to focus on things within themselves that may need some extra TLC.

    HAHA I can just picture your wife wanting to punch you when she’s trying to cook dinner with the kids. Multitasking stinks. I hope you cook dinner for the family tonight! :p

    • What if you just did an internal customer satisfaction survey and kept it simple? Say something like “This is what I’ve been doing with my time to try to better focus. Please take a moment rate your satisfaction with my internal customer service on a scale from 1-10.” Internal CSAT surveys probably aren’t a bad idea. I wonder what Mr. Toister recommends for measuring internal customer service.

  • Pingback: Permission to Focus Take 1 | Communicate Better Blog

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