The Power of Concentration

There’s much talk about the power of “multi-tasking,” but generally it’s all wrong. Scientists have discovered that it’s difficult or even impossible to do two things at once.

Sure, you may be able to hum a tune in your head while performing a simple task with your hands. Sometimes, you can think one thing and say another. In rare instances, you may be able to consider two different courses of action and simultaneously trace each of them to their logical conclusions.

But most of the time, what people think is “multi-tasking” is actually rapid-fire “task switching.” You do a little bit of this, and then a little bit of that, and continually switch back and forth so rapidly it almost appears as if you are doing two things at once.

It’s important to understand all this because, while “multi-tasking” is thought to be advantageous, the real super-power is concentration.

Thinking about and working on one single task, project, or goal at a time is not only the most natural way to make progress and get things done, it’s nearly always the best way, too.

Back in the day, I had a job preparing a newsletter on about 20 different stock and bond market investments. Each one was complicated, and if you had more than one of them working at the same time, there was a chance the losses of one would offset some or all of the profits in another. My job was to write about the weekly performance of each of the trades as well as their interactions, and publish the newsletter within an hour of the markets closing each Friday.

Naturally, I worked throughout the day, watching each trade and updating each write-up so that once the markets closed, I could wrap up the newsletter and get it out to subscribers as quickly as possible.

That last hour was a nightmare!

But then a colleague gave me a critically important pointer: Instead of juggling the write-ups of all 20 trades and trying to finish them simultaneously, it was faster to concentrate on a single write-up, get it done, and then move on to the next.

Using that approach, I was easily able to get the newsletter completed within the allotted hour.

Later in my career, I discovered that I could accomplish more by working in longer rather than shorter sessions. For example, I could accomplish much more in one two-hour session than in two one-hour sessions.

To capitalize on this, I began training myself to concentrate for longer and longer periods of time, systematically granting myself larger rewards for lengthier sessions at my desk. Eventually, I could bear down and work hard for up to four hours without a break.

(Full disclosure: today I can work up to eight hours without a break, but I discount this accomplishment because the work I’m doing is far easier and less demanding than my work in years past.)

The point is this: the ability to concentrate on a single task in your work and your life is a super-power for productivity and success. And the ability to do it for long periods of time multiplies the impact of this super-power even more.

Some of the reasons this is true include:

Concentration Simplifies

When you’re trying to push forward on several items at once, choosing what to do next can be complicated, requiring you to evaluate and prioritize a great many variables. However, when you’re concentrating on a single task, project, or goal, much of this complication falls away and your best path forward becomes far simpler to discern.

In addition, concentrating eliminates a lot of the need to drive yourself. With only a single task, project, or goal in front of you, you’re not torn between competing desires or obligations. Neither are you tempted by other opportunities.

Concentration Encourages Strategic Thinking

Because you are letting yourself concentrate on only one task, project, or goal at a time, there’s a great likelihood you will tend to choose the most important and/or urgent one. To make this choice, you will undoubtedly follow a sensible formula, like this one, that helps you identify the best task, project, or goal to work on next.

Concentration Empowers

It’s amazing how the simple act of concentrating your efforts tends to make those efforts more effective. Concentration:

  • Builds momentum, so you tend to become more effective and get more done with each passing minute.
  • Eliminates distractions and makes focus easier to achieve and maintain.
  • Reduces the “friction” and waste of time that you encounter every time you start up and temporarily shut down your efforts on a task, project, or goal.
  • Steps up your motivation and efforts by allowing you to finish more items, which reduces the emotional and psychological burden you feel from each of the “pending” items on your to-do list or agenda.

By concentrating more, you’ll discover that you waste less time and effort, feel better about what you’ve accomplished and whatever still remains to be done, and simply chalk up more and better results than you can with a more fragmented approach.

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