Multitasking is a myth, highly addictive, ineffective and should carry a government health warning!

Ann O'Mahony 19.10.2016

Welcome to the Attention Economy and Corporate Mindfulness

Work and Life has changed radically over the past few decades. We are experiencing distractions and information overload all the time. According to the former Director of the Accenture Institute of Strategic Change "understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success”. We are living in the "attention economy" where the ability to manage our attention and the quality of our attention is key to our success. Attention has become a new variable of performance in business. Welcome to the attention economy.

Many of us carry around the powerful illusion that we can pay attention to more than one thing at a time. From a neurological perspective, we are not capable of focusing on two things at the same time. When we are multitasking what we are really doing is "shift tasking" - shifting our attention rapidly between two things. Sometimes that shift is so fast it feels like we are paying attention to both at the same time but in reality, we aren't.

Unlike a computer, the human brain has only one processor and only one attention. Studies have shown that multitasking lowers people's job satisfaction, damages personal relationships adversely affects memory and negatively impacts health. Shifting back and forth between tasks is physically draining and stressful yet is highly addictive! Studies at Harvard University discovered that multitasking provides a "dopamine injection" to the brain which provides a sense of enjoyment and gratification. This instant gratification creates an addition to dopamine leading to the brain constantly looking for its next fix.  

Sound familiar? So how do you beat the addiction of "multitasking", of being master of everything that is irrelevant and of being distracted by anything?

Corporate Mindfulness!

The central characteristic of mindfulness are sharp focus and open awareness. Sharp focus is the ability to concentrate single pointedly on any object of choice for as long as you want with minimal effort. Open awareness is the ability to see clearly what is happening in your mind and make wise choices about where to focus your attention.

Two Rules of Mental Effectiveness:

Rule Number One: Focus on what you choose

Staying focused on the object of your choice is the first rule of mental effectiveness. A focused mind is fully present on the task in hand. Focusing on what you choose depends on recognizing that the overwhelming majority of distractions are irrelevant. Focusing on this rule is a powerful way to increase productivity and effectiveness.

Of course some distractions do require immediate attention so we need a second rule...

Rule Number Two: Choose your distractions mindfully

Your boss requires you immediately in his/her office to discuss a pressing problem. Rule Number Two allows us to make a subtle evaluation of every distraction and make a decision on paying attention to it or letting it go. Rule Number Two requires consciously choosing to let go of the task you are working on and focus your attention on the priority task - reassigning the original task to a definite future time. Role Number One becomes reengaged at this point. By maintaining an appropriate level of awareness you can find this balance and stay sensitive to situations that necessitate a shift in focus.

Combining the two rules of mental effectiveness - focus on what you choose and choose your distractions mindfully - results in a new way of working that can truly optimize individual performance. Advantages to this approach are significant, including greater productivity, improved performance and less stress. These two rules can help strip away the noise and disruptions that can clutter your mind and side-track you on the way to attaining your goals.

The inspiration for this blog came from 'One Second Ahead - Enhance your Performance at Work with Mindfulness' by Rasmus Hougaard with Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts.  

Morgan McKinley will be hosting a Breakfast Briefing on Corporate Mindfulness in conjunction with Potential Project in the coming weeks - please register your interest via email: if you wish to receive an invite.

Ann O'Mahony's picture
Operations Director


A leading multinational company with offices in Dublin are currently hiring for an Executive Assistant to join their team.
HR Shared Services Support - Dutch
Global Organisation, consistently ranked as a "Top Employer" within the Phama and BioTech Industry, has a rare permanent...