News & Media: Spotlight
Power of Laser Focus | Dilemma of Multitasking
By Hamed Babai
Posted on March 28, 2023
By Hamed Babai
Posted on March 28, 2023
In the movie Fracture, Ted Crawford says, “I used to candle eggs at my uncle’s farm. Do you know what that is? You hold an egg up to the light of a candle, and you look for imperfections. The first time I did it, he told me to put all the cracked or flawed eggs into a bucket for the bakery. And he came back an hour later, and there were 300 eggs in the bakery bucket. He asked me what the hell I was doing. I found a flaw in every single one of them – you know, thin places in the shell; fine, hairline cracks. You look closely enough, you’ll find that everything has a weak spot where it can break, sooner or later.”
This quote is an elegant picture of the power of laser focus in enabling us to SEE things around us. Seeing things clearly allows us to understand the problem, and the solution will not be far. As Einstein once said, “If we have an hour to solve a problem, we should spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.”
Laser focus is the hyper state of giving all your mental power to one task in the present moment. It requires actively eliminating all competing priorities and tasks from your mind to accomplish depth and clarity.
I remember a long time ago, I saw a sticky note on a friend’s fridge door that read, “Do one thing at a time, the most important thing first.” This, to me, is laser focus at its core.
Tuning into and maintaining laser focus isn’t natural. It requires conscious selection, allowing certain information in and out of your brain at a given time. However, I have found the following steps handy.
In his book Four Agreements (1997), Don Miguel Ruiz states that being “impeccable with your word” is vital for maintaining solid relationships. In other words, hold yourself with integrity and contribute only that which is meaningful.
Expanding this to words and actions, I believe that what we do, build, or say will either positively or negatively impact our relationships. It is essential to eliminate objects that do not serve a unique and positive purpose. Items we produce, words we use, processes we run, and KPIs we monitor are among the items we push to reduce. If it doesn’t exist, there won’t be any liability and cost of maintenance. It is a sign of respect to be mindful of people’s time and to practice brevity.
In our personal lives, we do things out of habit that don’t serve our purpose. The less crowded our mind or environment, the higher the chance of attaining laser focus.
Time is beyond our control, and we can’t welcome everything that knocks on our door. Knowing the impact of each task on our lives and the time and resources it takes to complete them, we can derive a return-on-investment (ROI) measure that enables us to prioritize the items with the highest ROI. Without setting priorities, humans push the most important tasks to the last minute. This makes them urgent and creates a low-performance state with higher chances of error.
In the picture below, urgent tasks (Quadrant 1) need to be prioritized. They are the result of poor planning. Push high-cost, low-importance items (Quadrant 4) to the end of the queue. Tasks in Quadrants 2 and 3 are the competing priorities that you must rank based on your ROI methodology.
Each task should have a goal with specific dimensions and qualities. Note the specs of the goal and cut through the distractions. Why is this important? Who will benefit and how? What does success look like in accomplishing this task?
When you have visualized the end goal, it is time to repeat the process for the path to the goal. Break down the path to the goal into segments with specific milestones. This requires actively thinking about what it takes to reach the end goal. Each step toward the end goal should have a measurable, defined success and a timeline.
New Year’s resolutions support this reality. According to research, four out of five people who sign up for gym memberships in January quit by the fifth month (Hoffman, 2022). When you think about what it takes to reach a goal, it is apparent that most of the New Year’s resolution folks do not have a plan in place with a proper path defined to get there.
According to Meyer, Evans, and Rubinstein (2001), brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time. Human “executive control” processes have two distinct stages called “goal shifting” (“I want to do this now instead of that”) and “rule activation” (“I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this”). We undergo these stages subconsciously when we switch tasks. Switching costs may be relatively small, but they can add up to significant amounts when people repeatedly switch back and forth between tasks.
Awareness of these distractions helps us eliminate them as we take on a task. Calls, emails, texts, Slack messages, and random people visits can produce distractions in our life. Another primary source of distractions is a lack of presence. This manifests as lingering in the past or overthinking about the future.
Let’s look at some areas where Laser Focus manifests itself in our daily lives. We can manifest laser focus every day in various domains of our lives. Its presence or lack thereof is often a primary factor in our success or failure. Here are a few examples.
Some types of meditation involve focusing on a particular sensation, such as our breaths, a sound, an image, or a mantra. This sheer act of focus slows our thoughts and brings us to the present moment with full awareness. On the other hand, “[i]ndividuals who engaged in multitasking appeared significantly sadder than those who did not. Interestingly, sadness tended to mix with a touch of fear in the multitasking cohort,” reported the study’s senior author, Ioannis Pavlidis of the University of Houston (2023).
One of the best examples of laser focus is displayed in the tug-of-war episode of the hit series Squid Game. A group of older men and women play tug-of-war against a far more muscular group. The winners will live. The losers will fall to their deaths.
The physically weaker team begins losing hope. In this tense moment, an older man on the first team shouts out to his teammates and shares a detailed plan: “Point your feet forward holding the rope near your body’s center. Lay your back low facing the sky. Pull the rope. Hold this position for as long as possible until the opponent tires. Then the entire team should start pulling in a synchronized way.” They believe in that vision and implement it with laser focus. They win.
Vision is possible only when you believe an outcome is attainable and are ready to fight for it. This recipe must be conveyed to the team precisely to become a reality.
In his book Psycho-Cybernetics (2001), Maxwell Maltz states, “If we picture ourselves performing in a certain manner, it is nearly the same as the actual performance. Mental practice helps to make perfect” (p. 52). Visualizing a goal, as seen in Squid Game’s tug-of-war scene, creates a better and crisper picture of an ideal state in our mind. We tend to see the details, and the devil is in the details.
Relationships break when people diverge from each other and lose their ability to feel or understand each other. If you give your partner your undivided attention, you must actively eliminate thoughts, actions, and distractions. This will immediately raise the question, Is spending time with this person meaningful? Relationships without an undivided time investment are not authentic, and given that our time is limited, we must define who gets it and how much they get from us.
One of the most potent effects of giving our undivided attention is active listening. Active listening involves paying attention, listening to the context and body language as well as words, and deferring judgement. Think about how often you construct a response before someone is done speaking.
Active listening carries weight, especially when it is a rare commodity and we are surrounded by inauthentic communications that lack presence. People feel valued when we give them our undivided attention.
With everything around us changing and the underlying nostalgia of the passage of time, creating solid foundations maintains the grit we need for a full life with no regrets. For me, the topic in this article holds one of the key secrets to a happy life. Not only will having less, letting go, and eliminating distractions ensure our happiness, but they will also make us better versions of ourselves.