It’s a fact; small business owners are some of the busiest people out there. Even when you’re not at work, your business is top-of-mind: there’s hiring and training employees, acquiring and retaining customers, managing cash flow, increasing marketing efforts, making payroll, maintaining equipment, and the list of tasks goes on.
Multi-tasking is the only way a hardworking small business owner can wear all of the hats and keep all of the balls in the air. Or is it? According to a recent study from Stanford University, not only is multitasking not making you more efficient at your job, it’s actually damaging your brain.
While many may pride themselves on the ability to jump from one task to another, multitasking has been proven to decrease productivity by up to 40 percent, not to mention inhibit creativity, increase mistakes, cause anxiety, and make a person more distracted in general.
The Stanford study found that attention tasks are not taking place simultaneously as the term multitasking implies. Instead they require your brain to shift focus rapidly from one to the other, diminishing the strength of your attention each time. It takes several minutes to get back in the zone of concentration every time you shift your attention, which means you’re wasting a lot of time on refocusing.
So what should you be doing to stay focused on the task at hand while staying on top of the never-ending to-do list?
Be a Singletasker
Become a singletasker, i.e. embrace the art of monotasking. Rather than hop back and forth from one task to another to another, try singletasking, even just for 20 minutes at a time. This may mean putting the phone on silent, ignoring your email inbox, or putting off conversations in order to really focus; but delaying these important tasks temporarily will pay off in terms of productivity. Consider the art of clustertasking as well. Grouping daily tasks into designated segments and budgeting that time throughout the day helps you remain focused and frees up time for bigger projects.
You can also strengthen your ability to focus through practicing a bit of mindfulness. The Stanford study revealed strengthened cognitive control in a group volunteers who underwent ten-minute sessions of focusing on counting breaths. Exercises in mindfulness, such as focusing on breathing or meditation, were shown to sharpen attention skills, improve concentration, and increase working memory.
It’s so easy to get bogged down with the day-to-day operations of a small business. Try making a list of the most common tasks in your day. Next, make a list of goals you’d like to accomplish in the future with some longer-term objectives. Decide how to manage your time between the two lists, making sure to dedicate your full attention to each task, one-at-a-time. Making a list of priorities prevents you from bouncing around between tasks.