Does it seem like, more and more, you are so busy working to accomplishing a variety of tasks all at once that you are rarely able to dig deep and focus on accomplishing any task or project with excellence?
A number of years ago, Linda Stone coined the term, Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). Continuous partial attention is the process of paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, but at a superficial level. In essence, it is a kind of multitasking but adds the element of just skimming the surface and quickly moving on to the next set of data. The other critical difference between multi-tasking and CPA is that multi-tasking is an effort to be productive and efficient by attempting to accomplish two or more tasks at once. Whereas CPA is an effort to just get by through the least amount of effort and attention. Consider two examples of CPA:
Example 1: You are researching an idea related to a new product that you are developing, but rather than diving into books and articles on the related topic, you go to Wikipedia or copy and paste some Executive Summaries. Your research might contain the essential elements of “average” but the differentiating elements that could bring insights to your research are not discovered or included.
Example 2: You come home from a crazy day at work. You are tired (physically and mentally) and dinner still needs to be prepared. You turn on the news and begin pulling out ingredients from the fridge when your 6 year old comes running into the kitchen excited to tell you all about her day. You nod a fair amount and say “that’s great” a few times as you continue to try to pick up the news headlines and prepare the meal without burning it.
If you start to see the quality of your work decrease or the relationships in your life begin to falter, maybe you are getting out of the habit of focusing your attention to the most important “jobs to be done.” CPA can be the cause of “settling for ordinary” rather than “going for extraordinary”. When you feel this happening, maybe it is time to slow down and re-train your brain to take the time necessary to focus on a few critical things and accomplishing them with quality.
Contributed by Todd Musig, Productivity Practice, FranklinCovey