How To Manage Multiple Tasks Without Multitasking

It’s possible to be productive in today’s fast-paced world and to effectively play many roles. Here's how to get started (without multitasking).

Every business owner knows the importance of productivity and time management. As the founder of several companies in multiple industries, one of my biggest challenges has been maintaining 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 would be. But multitasking has since lost its luster and credibility.

Research shows 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 on the phone about another business. I wasn’t giving my full attention to either task. Eventually, I learned to manage multiple tasks in a way that was focused.

 

Multitasking doesn’t work

Since multitasking doesn’t work, you might conclude 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 lies within 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 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. A successful student focuses on one assignment at a time, whether enrolled in one, three or six classes. The same approach can be applied to business or any project 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 typing up an important email while you’re on the phone.

 

How to stay productive and focused

Here are a few guidelines based on my own experience managing tasks:

 

  • Be very selective

    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 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.

 

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.

 

This article has been edited.

Shawn Porat founded Scorely and Judgment Marketplace. He has contributed to Forbes, Time and Money Magazine. Connect with @shawnporat on Twitter.

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