Winston Churchill and the ability to focus

An undated photo of Sir Winston Churchill.
OFF/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) I just finished the newly-published third volume of "The Last Lion," William Manchester's epic biography of Winston Churchill.

Manchester finished the research and organization of the book years ago, but died early in the writing of it, and it was completed by his journalist friend Paul Reid.

More than a thousand pages, it is no light reading. It weighed in at six pounds on my bathroom scale -- so heavy I put the book aside and finished it on my Kindle. But it was worth it.

I'm often asked who in history I would most like to interview, and my answer is Churchill. We owe him everything for recognizing the threat posed by Hitler, and the courage that it took in the beginning to stand alone against him.

This book reminds us to remember as well his iron will and ability to focus.

It recounts how once in the middle of dictation, an ash from his cigar set his clothing on fire. A secretary saw the rising smoke and said, "Sir, you're on fire! May I put you out?" The Prime Minister, not looking up, responded with nonchalance, "Yes, please do," and kept right on dictating.

In this age of Twitter, fancy phones and multi-tasking, as we watch the self-important creatures of official Washington lunge from photo op to photo op as the rest of us trail in their wake, I wonder: Wouldn't it be better if we all slowed down and concentrated on one thing at a time?

We've learned to multitask, but we're not getting much done.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.