who can multitask better? an entrepreneur or a toddler? think again…

Looking at my elder daughter (almost 2.5 years old) play is an amazing experience. She can be completely absorbed by something- like changing the clothes of her doll, or arranging a party for all the stuffed animals, and in a second she would lose interest, jump to another completely different activity and focus on it. And do it again in 3-4 minutes. And again…

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Try to focus on one thing at a time

We tend to think of ourselves as capable multitaskers – we all do so many different things throughout the day, mostly in parallel. Who hasn’t talked on the phone while checking emails, surfing the web or updating his social media status? Even at home we jump from one activity to another, always juggling. We tend to look down at youngling and their inability to perform multiple tasks in parallel coupled but what we perceive as incredibly short attention span (why can’t they sit still for more than 5 minutes?).

But truth is we’ve got this all wrong. True- kids don’t multi task, at least not in the way grown ups do. They focus on one activity, and one activity only, complete it (or lose interest) and move on. So while they don’t perform several activities at once, they have the ability to concentrate to an extreme on the single activity they are engage with now. And they achieve this extreme concentration very rapidly, almost instantly.

And this is what we’ve lost in our race towards multi-tasking. It is true we are required to perform many activities at the same time, some of which were inconceivable until very recently (driving and texting a friend half a world away for example). But what we find more difficult to do is concentrate on the task at hand.

Take writing this blog post for instance. I’ve started by opening a new word document, than wrote the first paragraph, then an email notification appeared so I’ve checked that email, my phone buzzed so I read some Whatsapp correspondence, I looked up an image for this piece so I got stuck on google image search for a while. By the time I’ve got back to the document I’ve lost my train of thought and had to stare at the screen for several minutes just to remember what it was I wanted to write.

And this process is both time consuming and mentally draining- it is said that as adults we need about 15-20 minutes to achieve full concentration. Any disturbance throws us back at square one. When it comes to creative work it’s even more extreme- some demand absolute solitude an quite in order to be able to create.

But kids? All they need is 10 seconds of playing with something new and they are fully absorbed, to the degree they can’t even hear you when you call them. And what seems to us as short attention span is simply a result of their intensity- they invest so much mental and physical energy into their endeavor that after what seems to us like a short time (which could be very long for them) they are over it and ready to move to the next one.

Us adults? We just thing we are doing many things in parallel, but in fact we are no better- simply jumping from one activity to another and by the end of the day we are surprised at how tired we are and how little we’ve accomplished (mostly the mundane tasks, which are in essence maintenance activities, nothing more).

So when people brag about their ability to multitask, I just smile and think of my kid playing at home. I Wish I could be more like her and be able to gain immediate focus at the task in front of me. But since I’ve lost this ability I’ve had to learn ways to focus on the activity I’m trying to complete- from removing all nuisances, to working in very late or early hours of the day (when there’s little distractions).

But the most important thing I’ve learned from her is that you simply can’t force it- if she’s not interested in doing something she simply won’t commit to it. Similarly I’ve learned that I can’t force myself into focusing on creative activities (like writing)- I need to grab the inspiration when it hits me and try to use it there and then.

And I don’t bother about multitasking anymore. I know it’s futile. I rather do 3-4 things well during the day than finish with the feeling of exhaustion and frustration of having accomplished nothing.  And if I have some spare time, I’ll go and watch my daughter play. It is inspiring on a parental and a professional way.

Should we ditch the fantasy of being an entrepreneur and focus on becoming an OWNtrepreneurs instead?

Our society and culture praises entrepreneurs- Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg. All people who risked a lot to start their own business and have had a profound impact on the way we work, play and interact with others. They have also gathered some immense fortunes for themselves in the process, and thus embody the spirit of the American dream. But looking at these inspiring figures can be daunting- these are all obviously extremely smart people, exceptionally focused and with seamlessly endless drive to achieve their goals. When they started their respective ventured they were also very young (not to mention male, American and white)- So it’s easy to compare oneself with one of these giants and come to the conclusion that we mortals are not like them. You and I are simple (erase the irrelevant) too old, tired/live in the wrong geography/ lack the ambition to be independent employees or company owners/ have a mortgage/too busy raising kids/ lack access to funding/ born in the wrong age etc.

Being an entrepreneur isn't for everyone, in fact, it isn't right for most people.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t right for everyone, in fact, it isn’t right for most people.

And these are not simply excuses. There’s a good explanation for the fact that most successful entrepreneurs are young American males from high socio-economic status. Older, poorer people living out of America (or any other place where there’s a startup culture) have much to lose if they quit their jobs and become full time entrepreneurs. And even for people who actually take the plunge the chances of failure are staggering- most startups/ new businesses would fail, according to statistics.

So most of us just stick to what we do, dream about becoming an entrepreneur but rarely do something about this. And feel bad about it.

We shouldn’t. Entrepreneurship is not suited for most people, and most will fail or will be miserable pursuing the big time startup/ exit dream.

But that does not mean we have to be another cog in the corporate machine. People working within organizations of every size, from tiny to global, can do wonderful things, feel professionally and personally satisfied and leave their mark. The trick is to adapt an Entrepreneurship-like mentality, what I call owntrepreneurship. If you think of your job as part of your career, and treat it the same way an entrepreneur treats his venture, you will feel the immediate impact and positive change.

You don’t believe me? Just look around you. In any organization you’ve ever been a part of, there were always some individual who seemed to be “above it all”. They have the freedom to set their own schedule, choose the task they find interesting and are respected by their peers and superiors alike. They are owntrepreneurs. They treat their day jobs as part of their career, as part of their venture. Other take note and provide these individuals with unique opportunities, not available to the “regular” employees. Once they excel at these opportunities they earn the respect, material compensation and promotion to a senior position, where this process repeats itself. They don’t do so by thrashing others or engaging in office politics (although some political maneuvering is unavoidable in large corporate environment, but that does not make it morally wrong). They focus their efforts on advancing their career and usually their environment recognizes and rewards that.

I have made a list of things that an owntrepreneur needs to keep in mind. I call it the owntrepreneur framework. You can find it here:

https://owntrepreneurship.com/the-owntrepreneurship-framework/

In following blog posts I will begin to explore each of these ideas and explain how anyone can employ these idea in almost every conceivable work environment- starting from the most rigid (military service) to the more loose and dynamic ones (self-employment/ startup). This is derived strictly from my own experience (and others close to me, and others I will quote…) and is meant simply as a recommendation, and not a checklist of sorts.

I do hope you join me for this journey and enjoy the ride!