As much as it hurts me, it’s time to say goodbye to multitasking. I’ve always taken pride in my multitasking skills, and they have been super helpful and useful to me as a mother. Probably even one of my major assets in running a household with three children. But, things are changing.
As my company has begun to grow during the past months, I’ve had to really sit down and figure out how to get all the work done. Sadly, multitasking is not the answer anymore. Multitasking is a very useful skill for certain situations, don’t get me wrong. And no, I will probably not be giving up on it completely as a creature of habit.. But when it comes to genuine productivity, there are better ways.
Be warned, you may need a pot of coffee to get through this lengthy post, but if you’re anything like me, doing a million things at the same time and feeling efficient, I’m glad you came over.
Multitasking makes us less efficient
I recently read a persuasive article in Harvard Business Review called How (and Why) to stop multitasking. It was a bit shocking to be honest. It’s far from the first time I’ve come across similar content, but it was the first time it really hit home. Here I am, master of multitasking, reading that I am in fact not being productive, quite the contrary. And it didn’t make me feel any better when I clicked over to UK Daily Mail and read on: “The evidence shows that women’s apparent multi-tasking superiority is down to the fact they are happier to try doing several things at once.” Emphasis on trying to do, when in fact, according to research, multitasking makes us less efficient. Because multitasking apparently makes women happy, there you go, the reason for why I won’t give up on it completely in certain situations. But for my business and important matters, sorry, it’s got to go.
Productivity requires focusing on one task at a time
If you want to be efficient, you need to simply focus on one task at a time. Give it a go. Now be reminded though, to kick a habit, it can take approximately 21 days (depending on the habit of course), so patience is required when you set off on adapting your mindset from extreme multitasker to one-task-at-a-time.
So here goes, the steps I have been taking to improve my time management and productivity.
Make a list
It’s easy to jot down a list of tasks and say, okay, I’ve got this. Especially when that list of tasks is simple and short. How about though when the list is a page long? What do you do then? Start crossing off the items on the list in chronological order? No.
Write down everything that you need to do. I started my system very recently, but so far so good. Monday morning, once I had gotten the kids to school and daycare and returned to an empty house, i.e. my home office, I grabbed a cup of coffee and a notebook. I wrote down two columns, “work” and “personal”. I wrote down everything that came to mind, things that needed to be done not just during the day, but also during the week. (Leave long-term goals for another time, this list is just for current matters.) Then I took out a highlighter and went over the most urgent and pressing tasks. These are the matters that need to be tackled first, even if I didn’t write them down in that order.
Prioritize your to-do list
Now that you have a list of things to do, and you know which ones are more urgent than others, you need to prioritize the order.
Depending on what kind of person you are, you will either want to tackle the most demanding tasks first or start with the quicker easier ones. Either way is okay, as long as you are comfortable. And know that you will be able to get things done! Personally, I’m a visual person. If I have a list with several items and nothing is completed after several hours of work, it gets to me. Hence, I prefer taking on the smaller tasks first, don’t laugh, but I do it so that I can cross them off my list and visually see some accomplishments pretty quickly. It makes me feel more efficient and productive and as well encourages me to continue. “Look how much I’ve already accomplished!”
Estimate your time usage
This is a very important point when building up your day. Estimate how long it will take to fulfil certain tasks. You don’t need to write down exact minutes, but acknowledge approximately how much time you will need to finish something. I’ll get to time blocking shortly, but before that, go through your time usage. If you have a big and demanding project, you probably won’t finish it in an hour, so be realistic. If Instagram is not your key business, then spending three hours on IG during the day is probably not something you should focus on. My guess is, you would be using it as a slight distraction in that case. It’s important to set strict, yet realistic deadlines for yourself that you try to abide by. These deadlines should also complement your goals, and possibly include small rewards, but that’s a topic for an entirely different post.
I’m still in the process of setting up my weekly routines to be divided into different work areas for different days. Simply so that I’m not back to square one again where I try to do everything in one day. Trust me, for example marketing and engaging on social media, photographing products and writing product descriptions, making the actual products, writing blog posts, updating my website etc. are all very different tasks and require different setups. Hence I try to divide them up onto separate days. Because you know what, squeezing all those tasks into one day doesn’t work. That is unless I want to do 16 hour days. Yes there are days when I need to do a bit of everything, but those days are more of an exception than the rule. I want to rather work efficiently and be productive, then work hours on end inefficiently.
Tally up your numbers
Go through your mandatory normal daily work tasks, estimate how much time they take approximately and also look at the important points on your to do list. Compile them together and count up the numbers. Does your day look realistic? Did you remember to add some breaks into your day? Oh and sleep too 😉 If you work normal hours and aim for an eight hour working day, you obviously know those numbers cannot add up to 12 hours. So if it’s not within a realistic time frame, go back and look at your to-do list. Reorganize the order of priorities if you must and re-evaluate your time management.
There are bound to be important matters on your “personal” list as well, so remember to include them in your day. The way you build up your day will also depend a lot on if you’re working as your own boss or for someone else, if it’s peak season for you, etc.
Set up a weekly routine
When you look at your daily work tasks, gather up similar assignments for the same day. My daily and mandatory routines include responding to e-mails, checking orders, etc., but I can break things up so that one day is focused more on working at my computer, while another is more focused on actual creating and sewing of physical products. A lot of days I’ll do both, but primary focus will be on either or. I for example have a “ships within three business days” -policy. Instead of every day beginning from scratch with sewing a scarf, I’ll gather the orders from 1-3 days for one day and focus on completing them during that designated day – again in order of priority.
Example of my weekly schedule
My week at the moment is built up roughly like this:
Monday: Planning for the week ahead, building up and updating my to-do list. Working on blog posts and research, social media marketing, planning campaigns and newsletter, etc.
Tuesday: Similar to Monday, focus on administrative tasks and work on my computer.
Wednesday: Work in my studio pre-preparing materials, trying out new ideas and patterns. Mainly sewing and filling orders.
Thursday: A bit of both areas, depending on which area requires my main attention.
Friday: I try to focus solely on completing and shipping orders, so that I’ll have a clean slate to begin the next week with.
Every day also includes various mandatory daily tasks, that I try to tend to as early in the day as possible. There are also of course phone calls and e-mails along the day that I have to react to, but if they’re not work related or urgent and I’m busy, they can wait.
Take example from the school system
Think of it as creating a good old school schedule. My daughter has a schedule with different lessons on different days, which is more of a guideline than 100% guaranteed. Their schedule is flexible and they can have different subjects at different times and days than in the plan, which is also what you need to do: Amend your plan according to necessity and focus. They do however stick to a daily time schedule; school begins and ends at a specific time, recesses and lunch are as scheduled. Classes such as P.E. that require gym clothes are also held according to schedule so we as parents can make sure our kids are properly dressed for the day.
If you’re your own boss, you’re free to schedule your day as you please. But if you want to be effective, establishing routines is key. Even though teachers are renowned for having good multitasking skills, building up a lesson plan to cover six different subjects in an hour would not be very productive. See the connection?
Now when you think of your weekly schedule as a school lesson plan, time blocks become obvious. You’ve already estimated the time it takes you to fulfil various tasks and duties and you probably also have a rough idea of how much you plan on working per day and week.
Now all you have to do is place those blocks into your weekly schedule. It takes a bit of practice, but it does get easier, I promise.
There are different ways that work for different people, but a general rule of thumb is to take a brief break approximately every 50 minutes. (An activity bracelet is an annoyingly good reminder.) Taking a break can mean numerous things. If I have a full day of work and personal tasks, I might get up from my computer and go hang the laundry to dry, empty the dishwasher or take care of some other practical and brief housework that needs to be done. Or I’ll simply grab a cup of coffee and relax on the couch. Power naps are not really my thing, but I do also take them when necessary. If I’ve been up half the night, or now that I’m battling a cold, charging my batteries during 20 minutes is priceless. Oh and a perk for working from home as my own boss.. 😉
Batch working is a two street in some ways. You don’t want to overdo it, but in moderation, I feel it’s an effective way to work. Let’s say I have a dozen scarves to craft. There are several steps I take: ironing, adding interfacing, sewing on the label, attaching the zipper and inner pocket with double stitching on one side, then the other, etc. I use different color threads and different presser feet on my sewing machine depending on which part I’m doing. Instead of taking out the iron after every piece, I iron them all at once. Instead of changing threads and presser feet constantly, I do the same colors and same steps at the same time on all the orders.
I don’t however iron and add interfacing and labels to my entire stock at once. Simply because I’ve amended and improved the product as I make new realizations or receive feedback. Had I attached the label on the lower left hand corner of my entire stock four months ago, I would not have had the possibility to change its position to a more useful place. So as said, don’t overdo it, but make use of it.
Take advantage of tools
Depending on your core business, the type of tools you’ll need will vary. Searching for different tools that ease your workload will however make a mountain of a difference.
Evaluate the programs that you work with. Say administrative tasks such as accounting. Are you doing it yourself or have you outsourced it? If you know you’re okay with doing it by yourself, good for you, but in that case, make sure you invest in an accounting program that works for you and not against you. When I set up my company I decided to take care of my own books during the first year. I have the education and the experience so no biggy, right? I purchased a relatively cheap program and got to work. I’m not even going to tell you how many times I’ve reset my entire data in the program and had to start over or how many hours I’ve spent on the phone with their support. Lesson learned, I won’t be renewing my annual subscription.
Instead of being able to efficiently take care of my accounting, getting started with the program took up hours on end of valuable time. Time that could have well been spent focusing on other tasks.
Scheduling programs are fantastic for when you work online. Nowadays you can schedule pretty much any content to any platform. I work on an international level, with different platforms catering to different geographical crowds. These platforms also have different times that are optimal for generating the most traffic. Pinterest brings in a lot of North American and Australian visitors to my site, while Facebook posts bring a lot more Europeans and so on. By taking advantage of scheduling programs I don’t need to be online 24/7. And I don’t need to be constantly multitasking.
Set realistic goals
Being realistic with your time management and goals is important. An overflowing to-do list that just keeps growing can be extremely stressful. And you know what else reduces productivity? Stress.
Even though I’m an optimist by heart, I’m also aware of my limits. I’m an overachiever in many ways, but exaggerating is not good for my business. Planning in 16 hour work days as a norm will not get you very far in life. So prioritize, focus, and avoid multitasking when it comes to work. If you haven’t read an earlier post of mine, Six lessons learned as an entrepreneur I suggest you give it a read.
Though this post has a lot to do with my personal situation of being self-employed, there’s no reason for why you couldn’t give these things a try in your own life. Regardless of if you’re in working life, a student or a stay at home mom, being inefficient and wasting time is a no brainer. Multitasking is not all bad and there is a time and place for it too. However, make use of your time, tackle your to do list and get more time to spend on things that bring you joy and happiness. After all, there’s more to life than just tasks and duties!