Focus Versus Mental Juggling: The Stress of Multi-Tasking

by Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

FocusLike most of you, I have found that there is a mental battle that rages and multi-tasking and concentration are obvious adversaries. The need for most of us to have sufficient brainpower to perform in our jobs raises this battle of the mind to a heighten position of importance. Some recent coaching conversations and the practicality of experiencing this in my own work gave rise to the research and commentary found in this two-part article.

“Do not let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do. ” – John Wooden

Great leaders learn how to focus. My experience coaching executive leaders reveals that concentration on a preferred future and a compelling vision requires skills in focusing. Scott Scheper has some good thoughts in an excerpt from his book on the website

The Roots of Focused Thought

“Defined, focused thought is the act of contemplating a specific problem, and in turn, falling into a state of flow. Time slows as you contemplate a specific problem. The roots of Focused Thought arose from a group of hermits in the Egyptian desert around 400 AD. These hermits were actually Christian monks who practiced repetitive and focused contemplation of the scriptures. Their practices centered around contemplating verses, ideas, and phrases and prayer on a daily basis. It is suspected that the East influenced these methods. By engaging in the habitual act of contemplating ideas, they exercised their minds–specifically their prefrontal cortex. Researches have found that such acts increase activity in the left prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that drives concentration, meta-cognition and decision-making. Essentially, these desert monks were increasing their brainpower every single day through Focused Thought. The same researchers found that such acts may even decrease anxiety and depression. The simple act of focused thought not only increases the mind’s ability to concentrate it reduces the likelihood of depression. Focused Thought enhances attention span and makes the mind more flexible. This increases awareness of your environment, as well as the ability to be objective in emotionally charged situations. This sense of awareness doesn’t just apply to your environment. It also applies to the creative component within your mind. Essentially, you’ll find it easier to fall into the state of flow when you practice Focused Thought on a habitual basis.”

“In summary, the concept of Focused Thought isn’t a qualitative act (i.e. practiced in order to seek spiritual enlightenment). Focused Thought is a quantitative, and calculated way to exercise your prefrontal cortex; thus, improving your creativity, decision-making and general sense of happiness,” – by Scott Scheper

Scheper’s observations are correct. The prefrontal cortex has been determined to be involved in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, decision-making and moderating correct social behavior. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be the coordination of thoughts and actions in accordance with inner goals.

“An important project was begun, a bishop quoted an ancient sage as saying, ‘If our thoughts and hopes are elsewhere, it is impossible for us to set our faces steadily toward the work required of us,” – Anonymous

The most typical psychological term for functions carried out by the prefrontal cortex area is executive function, interesting nomenclature in light of this article. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectations based on actions, and social “control” (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes).

All of these activities, directed by the prefrontal cortex, are executive skills essential to success in organizational and corporate life. Of interest especially is the brain activity that guides and guards our self-control. My opinion is that when it comes to an individual’s leadership development, which will be a determining factor in the team’s development, focus will be an essential skill.

If you found these tips from Rick Forbus, PH.D. of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at

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