BY ROB SMENTEKIt’s 4 p.m. You’re in the midst of finalizing the week’s payroll while email and calls from affiliates come flooding in. What’s more, a chauffeur just called out sick and you need to find a replacement fast to pick up a VIP in an hour while dealing with a new rush-hour traffic pattern. Somehow, however, you manage to juggle all this and still make it home in time for your daughter’s dance recital. Thank goodness for multitasking, right?
If you ask any business person at the top of their game to cite a skill that’s contributed to their success, odds are that they will mention their ability to multitask. And certainly, in our full-service 24/7 industry—whether you’re an owner, affiliate manager, or even a chauffeur—you need to be prepared to deal with any variety of tasks or problems that land on your plate, often simultaneously.
But what if I were to tell you that multitasking, as most of us understand it, is a misnomer? What’s more, in truth, it is actually a skill that very few people—even the most successful ones—possess.
In 2013, the National Geographic Channel aired a segment on its Brain Games program that featured the studies of Professor David Strayer of the University of Utah, where a Type-A CEO was put through a series of tests designed to measure the effectiveness of multitasking. Perhaps fitting for the ground transportation industry, the tasks involved driving while answering questions over a speaker phone: The subject failed each of the tests somewhat predictably, thereby cementing the reason cellphone use is discouraged, if not illegal, behind the wheel. (You can view this video at http://bit.ly/2i3CEKr.)
Through these studies, Strayer has gleaned that the majority of people (98 percent, in fact) are not able to efficiently complete two tasks at once with high level of accuracy. So, what does that mean for the folks who have thrived while handling multiple tasks under high stress conditions? Simple: They aren’t multitasking.
Through these studies, Strayer has gleaned that the majority of people (98 percent, in fact) are not able to efficiently complete two tasks at once with high level of accuracy."
The ability to switch back and forth between projects is actually called serial processing, which means that your brain can toggle between two activities in the blink of an eye. So while it may feel like you’re in a constant state of doing two things at once, what’s really happing is that you’re able to operate your brain like a supercomputer and momentary log off from your payroll ledger, then essentially reboot it so that you can take a phone call from your affiliate. Then, when you add in the ability to effectually manage your time, you become a business terminator, able to not only manage a variety of tasks but also get them done.
If you’re not part of the 2 percent who can truly multitask with efficiency and accuracy, don’t let your business or home life suffer by taking on too much at one time. Serial processing is something that you can improve on or train yourself to do. The following are some tips to help you get through those days when it seems like the work never stops.
Set the Tasks in Advance
Make a plan and set goals. Obviously, it’s impossible to plan for the unforeseen things that will wind up on your lap, but by scheduling your routine responsibilities ahead of time, you’re less likely to face an avalanche when those calls, emails, and last-minute meetings come. More importantly, don’t wait until you’ve already started something to decide what else you want to accomplish. You already have enough to do without piling on more work.
Once you have a schedule laid out in front of you, it’s a good idea to prioritize your many tasks so that you can end up with the important ones finished and the less important ones still waiting (but partly completed–not ignored). And for those tasks that didn’t get finished, make sure they have a place on the top of tomorrow’s task list.
Avoid Paralysis by Analysis
Often when people attempt to multitask, they forget the “task” at hand. When you see something on your calendar or come across an email, voicemail, or text, address it quickly or put in on a schedule. The worst thing you can do is overanalyze your plan of attack to the point that you do nothing. A key to getting things done is doing the work you don’t like first. Otherwise, you’ll keep burying that task in the back of your mind, planting the seed of procrastination. Added benefit: The sense of accomplishment that such an undesirable task is done feels pretty fantastic.
Put Yourself on Lockdown
There will be times that you just have to accept that a project can’t wait and needs your immediate, undivided attention. Again using the analogy of your brain as a computer, working with too many windows open can cause a system crash. You certainly don’t want to lose all that data you’ve been working on.
There will be times when you simply have to turn the phone off or lock your door. Once you complete a project—particularly a large one—the relief you feel will generally give you the push you need to move onto the next thing.
Also, don’t be afraid to delegate or ask for help. When you’re overloaded, take a breath and see if any portion of the work can be done by someone else on your team. Or if you aren’t in a supervisory role, ask your manager for a lifeline.
Understand that bouncing back and forth between activities means that you will have to leave at least something unfinished temporarily, so it’s imperative that it should be just that—temporary.
When you accept multitasking or serial processing as a method to help you go about your day, you need to remember that your ultimate goal is to be productive. In other words, finish what you start. Preparing in advance and using time wisely are the best ways to fit 10 hours of work in that eight-hour day. [CD0117]