For many small businesses, September is like the start of a new year. Kids are back in school. Family vacations are done. And the somewhat slower pace, that seems to be part of warmer weather and school holidays, fades away with the cooler weather and the return to regular routines.
As you get back into the swing of things, the temptation to ‘multitask’ – to try to do several things at one time – in order to get back on track, can feel overpowering. So much to do, so little time!
But the truth is, attempting to do or focus our attention on more than one thing at a time is more likely to make us less productive and more stressed, not more productive and less stressed.
The brain is a lot like a computer. You may have several screens open on your desktop, but you’re able to think about only one at a time.William R. Stixrud, Ph.D.
Say ‘No’ To Multitasking
Saying no to multitasking is difficult for many of us.
We often feel too busy to be able to focus on one thing at a time. But the reality is, the ability to multitask is actually a myth! No one can really focus on more than one thing at a time. Doing so makes one less effective and productive, not more.
The Myth of Multitasking
A few years back I came across a small book titled ‘The Myth of Multitasking’ by Dave Crenshaw. It’s a quick and easy read that helps expose the lies about multitasking.
If you struggle with multitasking, I highly recommend you pick up a copy. (As a matter of fact, it’s high time I reread it!!) The book comes with praise from the likes of Seth Godin.
We live in an ADHD world. And I’m glad we do. But as Dave understands, the secret is to do one important thing at a time, with focus. If you can take the time to focus on his message, you’ll be glad you did.Seth Godin
Jumping Back and Forth
Jumping back and forth between tasks, people, activities – aka multitasking – usually results in us:
- Feeling more stress and anxiety (even if we’re feeling euphoric over all we think we are accomplishing).
- Being less productive (each time we switch tasks it takes time for our brain to readjust to the new task we have switched focus to).
Our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.
Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.Earl Miller, MIT Neuroscientist
3 Ways To Do More, While Doing Less
If you’re a recovering multitasker like me, it requires constant vigilance to not fall into the trap of trying to do several things at one time. To not pride ourselves in all the things we can supposedly do at one time.
Seriously, while it can seem impressive to some, in truth none of what we are doing is receiving our full attention and thus it is taking us significantly longer to really accomplish anything of value.
3 Tips to Help Defeat The Multitasking Dragon
Here are 3 things we can do to help defeat the dragon of multitasking in our lives!
1. Focus on one thing.
Whether you’re responding to an email, working on an important project, speaking with a customer on the phone or meeting with them in person, staying focussed and present on that one task, activity or person is important.
Trying to do more than one thing at a time is actually more likely to make us less efficient, less productive, less creative and more stressed.
2. Block Time for Important Work
Blocking time for important work (both urgent and non-urgent) is an important part of being productive, creative and efficient.
For solo entrepreneurs, this may work better early in the morning, and for some in the evening, or outside of normal customer hours. The type of business you operate and when you are most productive will help you determine what works best for you.
Some of the things you might regularly schedule blocks of time for include:
- writing an article or monthly newsletter
- preparing a proposal or working on a project for a customer
- working on a budget or weekly financial records
- making follow-up or marketing calls to customers
- preparing and scheduling social media posts for a day, week, month in advance
- blue skying new ideas, plans, concepts, for a customer or your business
- analyzing/reviewing periodic activities/results
3. Schedule Time for Responding.
In our online world, things like email, text messages, social media and even phone calls from customers are often seen as distractions to our work. But the truth is, for small business owners – and really businesses of all sizes, these are important parts of our work.
These activites represent communication with our customers and are not unimportant distractions that can be put off until after everything else is done. Our customers, for most businesses, expect to be able to reach us or hear back from us in a timely fashion.
That said, when we respond to every email, text, social media alert or phone call immediately, no matter what we are doing, we are setting ourselves up for burnout and seriously impacting our ability to focus and get things done. Over time this will have a negative impact on customer service too.
Instead, when time is scheduled to focus/work on a specific project/task/person, rather than allowing yourself to be distracted/interrupted every time an email or text comes in or the phone rings, schedule periodic breaks for the specific purpose of responding, at least to those that need immediate attention.
Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. (emphasis added)Travis Bradberry
Multitasking Makes You Less Effective, Not More So!
There is a ton of research showing that multitasking doesn’t help us perform better but instead actually slows us down, harms our performance and may even lower our IQ!
So, for those of us who have taken great pride in our multitasking abilities, it’s time to take a good and hard long look in the mirror and commit to changing our ways. That is, if performing our jobs well is important to us!