There’s a difference between managing multiple tasks and multitasking.
Every business owner knows the importance of being productive and developing good time management skills. As the founder of several companies in multiple industries, one of my biggest challenges has been maintaining my focus and not spreading myself too thin.
Not that long ago, multitasking was considered a positive process. The idea was that the more things you could do at once, the more productive you were. But multitasking has since gone out of favor. Research shows that when people multitask, they are actually less productive overall. I certainly found this to be true. On several occasions, I would look at data concerning one of my businesses while talking to someone on the phone about another business. This meant I wasn’t giving my full attention to either task. Eventually, I learned to manage multiple tasks in a way that was focused and didn’t involve multitasking, at least as it’s usually defined.
Managing Multiple Tasks vs. Multitasking
Since multitasking doesn’t work, you might conclude that the solution is to simply do fewer things. An entrepreneur, for example, might be more effective running only one business. But you don’t have to make such a limiting decision. The real solution is how you use every minute of your day.
If you don’t know how to focus and prioritize, you’ll have trouble managing even one business (or job, or any other area of your life). Think of the average college student, who takes four to five classes per semester. Should students only take a single class at a time? Of course not. What a successful student does is focus on one assignment at a time, whether he or she is taking one class, three classes, or six classes. The same approach can be applied to business, or any task for that matter.
It’s important to make a distinction between managing multiple projects and multitasking. A student taking five classes, or an entrepreneur running three companies, can successfully manage multiple activities with the right approach. Multitasking, on the other hand, means trying to do multiple things at the same time, like writing up an important report while you’re on the phone.
Tips For Staying Productive and Focused
Here are a few guidelines based on my own experience managing tasks:
- Be very selective about the projects you take on. The busier you are, the more discerning you have to be before giving the green light to a project or task. Ask yourself if this is really going to help you move towards your goals or if it’s just going to be a drain on your time.
- Minimize interruptions. When you’re running a business, people will always want to talk to you. If you’re not disciplined about limiting your time on the phone, or talking to people who walk into your office, you’ll find it hard to get anything done. The best solution for me is to set aside certain times when I’m focusing only on certain tasks. During these times, I don’t talk on the phone, chat online, answer emails, or engage with people, unless it’s an emergency.
- Have brief and focused meetings. Meetings that drag on for no good reason can be a major drain on time and productivity.
- Focus only on one primary task at a time. This is probably the most important tip of all. The amount of time you spend on one task doesn’t necessarily have to be long. The Pomodoro technique, where you alternate between focused work for 25 minutes, and short breaks, can be very effective. The key is to be disciplined enough not to be distracted (by either yourself, your phone, your computer, or other people) during this time.
The Key to Focus and Time Management
What really counts is not how many tasks, projects, or businesses you’re managing. It’s how conscious and efficient you are about spending your time and minimizing distractions. It’s possible to be productive in today’s fast-paced world and to effectively play many roles. The key is choosing your projects carefully and giving your full attention to each task while it’s in front of you. When you focus in this way, you’ll be able to manage a surprising number of projects.
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