I recently wrote about the importance of being efficient and productive, since time is a commodity that most start-ups and entrepreneurs often lack most.
One of the key issues not mentioned was multitasking – the idea that it is possible to do multiple tasks at the same time with no impact on performance. For example, you can talk on the phone with a potential client while checking e-mail and having lunch as opposed to taking care of one task at a time.
Not only does multitasking apparently save time, it also provides a sense of accomplishment, making us feel like we're super-productive workers who can successfully juggle a variety of things – something not possible by "ordinary" or less-talented workers.
The only problem is that multitasking doesn't work – at least it's not a great way to do business. There are probably lots of studies suggesting it is possible, and that it provides a variety of benefits, but it is really the best way to work?
From personal experience running my own business, multitasking seems like a great idea. Who wouldn't want to get more stuff done in a set period of time by doing a variety of things at the same time? From that perspective – at least theoretically – it seems like a no-brainer.
The problem is, in practice, multitasking fails to produce the promised benefits. Instead of making me more productive and efficient, multitasking makes me feel unfocused and scattered. When you're on the phone with someone and going through your in-box at the same time, it can be hard to know where to focus your attention. Even with only two tasks, it can be a huge challenge.
The solution is to do one thing at a time – single-tasking. In a multi-tasking world, single-tasking seems like driving a Model T when there is a Porsche sitting in the driveway. But the advantage of single-tasking is it allows people to focus one thing before moving on to the next one.
Take the phone call for example. Instead of having a conversation and checking your e-mail, try this approach: turn away from the computer (or your sandwich) and focus on what the other person is saying. Force yourself to listen rather than letting your mind wander to other things that may seem more important. You'll discover that single-tasking allows the conversation to sink in deeper and you'll engage in a better dialogue.
Another exercise – and these are things I try to embrace personally – is to turn off social media when you're working on a particular project. Rather than switching back and forth between the task at hand and Twitter (or Facebook), focus on what needs to be done as opposed to the social chatter. When you're finished the task, give yourself 15 minutes of guilt-free social media goodness.
The importance of single-tasking struck me recently while doing some work after dinner. For two hours, I focused on getting two projects done with no distractions – no phone calls, no social media. I was amazed by how much work got done – work that I had been trying to complete for days.
Multitasking may be seem sexy but it is a distraction that makes you less productive rather than more productive. Give single-tasking a whirl and see whether it makes a difference.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.