Time Management & multi-tasking have always been ‘buzzwords’ in the business world. They’ve always been important to me but never so much as since opening up my consultancy. All the things people told me at the beginning are true – you’re not only trying to work but you’re also trying to be the accountant, the marketing department, the PR expert and the sales person all rolled up into one – particularly right at the start when you haven’t got the resources or capital to outsource everything.
Sure, as time has gone on, certain aspects have been outsourced to other people, but most of the rest of it still lies with me and it can be a true juggling act to keep it all going! The last few months have been somewhat of a whirlwind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved it – I’ve met some great people, got several new clients on board (all of whom I’m really enjoying working with, and all who have their own, different challenges), I’ve been involved in different projects and various contracts and all while on this massive learning curve of running my own business.
Probably one of the biggest things I have learned over the last few months is just how important it is to be able to manage my time effectively, work ‘smart’ and be able to multi-task effectively – I thought I was pretty good at this anyway but having my own business has tested this to another level!
Time management really comes down to being aware of what you do, when you do it, and why. If we do that, it should help us prioritise and if it doesn’t, there’s certainly a myriad of self-help books, courses, internet articles etc on the subject!
We talk about multi-tasking when we’re seemingly able to juggle lots of things at the same time. Some people say this isn’t actually effective at all – take the example of if a driver is talking and driving at the same time, some would say their driving is worse as they’re distracted. Others would say perhaps the conversation is keeping them alert & awake, particularly on long, monotonous drives.
Psychologists actually call multi-tasking ‘rapid task-switching’, saying it’s actually impossible to multi-task as your attention and focus can only truly be on one thing at a time. When you text while watching a film for example, you’re not really paying full attention to the film in that moment – it’s one or the other and there’s a cost to switching tasks rapidly and often (drop in performance – businesses take note!).
Again, some of us will be better at this than others. I feel I’m generally quite good at juggling several things at once but I do understand the logic behind the above, and as good as I might think I am at this, there’s definitely been times when I’ve slipped up! Interruptions and doing many things at once generally makes us less productive in the end (plenty of research out there on this!)
The advice to combat this? Simple – do one thing at once! Particularly if the task requires thought. Try structuring your work into half hour chunks – after half an hour you can work on something different so you’re still covering different things but there’s less interruption than if you were flitting from task to task every five minutes. Try and reduce distractions while you’re in that half hour zone – turn your phone/email off (something I need to get better at!). It may also give you motivation to get things done that little bit faster if you think you’ve only got half an hour to get that particular thing done by.
The other part of time management and multi-tasking is knowing when to switch off (again, something I’m not always great at). Having said that, I did notice that I was starting to get obsessive about looking at my emails, being unable to leave it if I saw a notification pop up on my screen so I actually took the pretty big step of turning email notifications off! Now, I have to physically go into my emails to see them. I probably still do that too much, but it has definitely helped me wind down in the evenings, week ends etc.
On a side note, I’ve been interested in the increase of use/demand for ‘dumb phones’ – the opposite of smart phones. Phones that literally just phone/text – taking it all back to basics. 2018 is probably the year where we’ve all realised that there’s definitely such a thing as too much screen time (constantly refreshing twitter – guilty as charged!) and it’s having a massive impact on us all.
Other things you can do to help reduce any dip in performance from multi-tasking; only look at emails at certain times of the day – I know people who will do this and even go so far as to put an out of office on, detailing when the sender might expect a response. Chunk down work to half hour slots, then have a break, stretch, before starting the next task. Focus on one thing at a time. If you can, outsource work to others – accounts, marketing activities, HR (by the way, if you do need any HR support, get in touch!). Try to prioritise work – Steven Covey has a great time management matrix (below).
Inspire Excellence (along with the HR side of the business) also does coaching and training. If you’d like to chat to us about our services, please do get in touch.