I have a running debate with my younger sister about the effectiveness of multitasking. She’s a fan. I am not; unless it’s sensible – like throwing in a load of laundry and starting dinner. Even that feels less like multitasking and more a simple flow from one task to another. It’s not like I am taking my laundry and beating it against a rock while using a cauldron over a fire I started myself.
If pressed, I’ll concede multi-tasking works for highly organized people who work efficiently ALL the time. And while that might be true for some of you some of the time as a small business owner, there’s too much demanding our attention for it to work consistently in the real world. Thinking about how to best use your time when not dealing directly with existing clients/customers or cultivating prospects is often a wishful dream, not something actually thought about as you switch from marketer to accounts payable/receivable accountant to promoter. Is it any wonder finding time to do it all can be overwhelming?
Still, many believe multitasking moves the to-do list along faster. In reality, it slows you down. Instead, try doing similar tasks at the same time. If you have multiple email accounts, like I do, check your business account first. Then, if there is time, check your personal email. I have a third account - essentially for junk mail. Product registration and all the emails that come after. I check this account once a day.
What You Might Not Know About Multitasking
You’re more likely to make errors;
Focusing on more than one task causes stress; and
It hampers your creativity.
The good news is there are ways to boost your productivity and break your multitasking habits. First, it’s important to acknowledge what your challenges are as a small business owner. The most common are:
Distractions – Read multitasking.
Balance – Essentially, live in the moment. Do what needs to get done NOW not in the future. Although, using your time wisely will give you an opportunity to get ahead with regular tasks. Do it whenever possible. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a ton of free time one week and then nothing the following week. That’s called life.
Putting out fires (that’s what we called it in the newsroom) – Handling all the unexpected things that pop up throughout the course of the day; always, it seems, at the most inconvenient time.
Tips to Boost Productivity
Set yourself up for success – Instead of starting with the most time-consuming or disliked responsibilities, try knocking the top five easiest tasks off your To-Do List. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and will be more motivated to take on harder work. You may be surprised by how much easier it is to transition into that work.
Make friends with the clock: Depending on the task, I set an alarm for 15 minutes before I want to be done. I work in 90-minute cycles so my alarm goes off after 75 minutes. This keeps me on time and allows me to wrap things up. It also gives me time to shuffle things around if I decide I want to continue working on my current project.
Use a calendar: I schedule my workday on my calendar – including yoga class or time to hit the gym if I haven’t done either before I start my day. I also leave myself 30 minutes in between each 90-minute cycle to return phone calls or emails. This way I am not inundated at the end of the day.
Remove the distractions – Before I begin working, I check my phone and email one last time before closing them down. I don’t check them again until the 90 minutes has elapsed.
Work when you’re the most effective – Yes, you can do this if you have store or office hours – though it can be a little tricky. Working when you’re tired, stressed or would rather be somewhere else is a waste of time. Don’t do it.
I live in a beach town where there is an influx of seasonal residents and summer tourists. I wonder if they enjoy their normal lives as much as their vacation. Or are they harried by early to work and late to home so often that the only time they enjoy life is on vacation? There’s a fine line between living to work and working to live. What kind of life do you want?