Series on Multi-tasking: Being focused

What did Steve Jobs, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the century, think about Multitasking? Regardless of how you feel about Apple, Steve Jobs was an incredibly prolific CEO who was more than just the face of the company. Before his death in 2011, he managed to change the face of Apple and provide a unique workplace lauded for its productivity.

Jobs was certainly a complicated person and for every genius idea he had plenty of bad ones. His management style was confrontational, he was rude, and his authoritarian outlook on Apple’s openness is well known. In short, he was a jerk who was tough to work with. Still, he managed to change the face of a company and push for innovation in the marketplace. He helped shape Pixar in the ’90s and brought the failing Apple corporation back to life when he returned in 1997.

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he walked into a company struggling to sell its wide variety of products. One of Jobs’ first moves as the new CEO was to reduce the number of products sold by Apple. Jobs condensed Apple’s offerings and made it easy to pick a Mac. From there, it branched out to introduce the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, but has always kept their main product line limited to just a few different choices.

Jobs didn’t just do this with Apple. He’d pass along the advice to just about anyone who asked. He told Nike to cut the crappy stuff as well:”Do you have any advice?” Parker asked Jobs. “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle. But Jobs didn’t laugh. He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”

Jobs’ point here can easily be applied to everyday life. If you have too much going on, start saying no more often. Get rid of any activities that aren’t actually helping you in your career and life. If you have too much going on, focus in on what matters.

Of course, focusing on what matters is easier said than done. Jobs had a system for making sure people could do their best work by ensuring that everyone was working on what they should be and nothing else. During meetings Jobs would assign tasks and a person responsible for them. The hope was that with proper delegation, everyone would work on what they’re supposed to and not have to worry about anything else. Wired sums it up:There’s no excuse for employees to have any confusion after a meeting. An effective Apple meeting will include an “action list,” and next to each action item is a “DRI” — a directly responsible individual who must ensure the task is accomplished.

For the rest of us, the lesson here is about delegation. In order to do your best work, you need to stop multitasking and concentrate on one task at a time. The more things you can delegate, the more time you have to work on what matters.