Martha Treats #151

Competing Attention

Recently while completing the final pieces of my website upgrade, I was on hold with a vendor to get coding information for the designer, and decided to continue working as it could be a long wait.  And what happened was a building of frustration as the on-hold message, instead of music, was a continual voice giving unwelcomed tips and marketing messages.  After 15 minutes of this constant voice in one ear and attempting to have other conversations on my other line I started laughing, as I know better.  It was time for a different choice.


We think we are masters of handling competing actions (multi-tasking) and this experience reinforced for me the impact multi-tasking has on us regardless of what we pretend.  It is very wearing on us physically, emotionally and mentally to have our attention split


Yet we keep multi-tasking thinking if I can just handle this one thing quickly I will be ahead.  We justify multi-tasking as a necessary coping mechanism that does everything but help us cope. And we somehow believe multi-tasking is essential to accomplish all that needs to be completed.


The funny part was that, if I had checked my email while I was making these other calls, I would have seen that my web designer figured out another way to obtain the code and the stress I created for myself was unnecessary. 


My favorite example of how multi-tasking takes longer is—two people are talking on the phone having a conversation and both people are also reading email simultaneously.  If both people would be fully committed to being with the other person, the conversation would be considerably shorter since the focus would not be split.  Same is true for meetings. If everyone is fully present, undistracted, the meeting will be shorter.


There is no real advantage in split attention regardless of what we say.  What we pretend is “background” is actually right up front splitting us apart. 


Our responsibility to ourselves in those moments is to choose a different behavior.  In child rearing, parents give kids choices.  We can do the same by asking ourselves, which of these actions is asking for my full attention and choose that one.  Then choose another…one thing at a time through to completion.


Multi-tasking as a mechanism for coping may be a wide spread practice these days yet it is really avoiding the intimate relationship with the one thing that is requesting our full attention.  When we are 100% present with one thing we are also giving ourselves the gift of our own presence. 


Martha Invitations

1.  Start laughing at yourself when you are pretending that multi-tasking is assisting you.

2.  Practice just doing one thing at a time and see if you can.

3.  Invite colleagues and friends to call your attention forward if they observe you splitting your focus.




Martha Treats and Hour of Focus are free services for my clients and subscribers. I work with individuals and teams around the world in Taking Action to Completion. The result is greater confidence and perspective, both personally and professionally. Learn more about my consulting services on, or reach out to me at

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