How to Make Multitasking Work for (and Not Against) You

Lee Polevoi by Lee Polevoi on October 8, 2012

Multitasking isn’t for everyone. In many cases, trying to do two or more unrelated things at the same time can result in substandard work, partially completed jobs, and a constant feeling that nothing’s getting done.

But there’s a big difference between juggling unrelated tasks and multitasking strategically. Small-business owners are often compelled to address more than one issue at a time. Some preparation and focus at the outset can result in greater productivity — and a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day.

Here’s how to make multitasking work for (and not against) you:

Get organized. What does your office space or work area look like? Having important documents scattered about only aggravates your situation. Instead, before you start working, get everything in order, including paperwork, computer programs, and to-do lists. If you’re going to move from one task to another, you might as well have all the elements in place beforehand.

Prioritize your to-do list. The best to-do list for today is the one you put together yesterday. Before leaving the office, compile a list of tasks for the next morning, so you can hit the ground running. The most important tasks should appear at the top of the list. Do your best to finish each item, and check it off as you move on. Other to-do list tips:

  • If, for whatever reason, one task in particular bogs you down, don’t waste time knocking your head against the wall. Make a note of what you’ve achieved thus far and return to the to-do list.
  • Bundle similar tasks together. If you need to make a half-dozen phone calls, try doing them consecutively, rather than staggering them throughout the day. Grouping similar tasks together saves you from having to start and stop each time.
  • Is there a nagging chore on the list that you keep putting off? Take care of it today and give yourself some psychic “breathing space.”

Stay focused. “Focus” and “multitask” may not seem like compatible concepts, but consider how often minor distractions keep you from finishing even the simplest task. It’s tempting, but not productive, to shift your attention whenever the next thing pops up (a new email or text message, for example). Instead, stay focused for maximum efficiency. This may mean closing your door, not answering the phone or email, or finding a quiet place where interruptions are unlikely to occur. Staying focused helps you “get in the zone,” that state of mind in which everything is possible and amazing stuff gets done.

Budget your time. Look again at the items on your to-do list. Wherever possible, allocate specific blocks of time to each task. A larger time-block may be required for your most important tasks; everything else can likely be done in short bursts, as long as you stay focused. In any case, set a time limit per item — and stick with it.

Don’t think about delegating, do it. You know you can’t do everything yourself, so why keep trying? Hire a freelancer. Or, if you have employees, delegate tasks to the appropriate people and assign reasonable deadlines. You’ll be able to transition from chronic juggling to focusing on the future of your business — the single most important item on any small-business owner’s to-do list.

Lee Polevoi

Lee Polevoi is an award-winning business writer specializing in the challenges and opportunities facing small business. He is former Senior Writer at Vistage International, a global membership organization of CEOs.