Not so long ago, we thought of multitasking as something only computers could do. But now it’s a required skill listed on most human job descriptions, usually somewhere after “detail-oriented.” And with cell phones, Twitter, CNN, and flat-screen TVs on gym treadmills all vying for our attention, we can be forgiven for thinking ourselves capable of tackling more than one thing at a time.
But if you’ve been stuck behind a driver on a cell phone you know that multitasking rarely works as well as we’d like to believe. Our brains simply aren’t wired that way. Multiple studies have shown that attempting two tasks at once (emailing while returning a phone call, for example) leads to distraction, errors, and wasted minutes. Each mental shift requires time to restart and refocus. One study of office workers by the University of California-Irvine showed that workers interrupted by emails or phone calls took an average of 25 minutes to return to their original task.
You’ve devoted time and money to understanding the minds of our four-legged friends. So let’s spend a couple of minutes on humans. Simply put, we’re built to focus. It’s in our nature to tackle one task at a time. Which is easier said than done, we know. Every day dog pros juggle clients, dogs, leashes, keys, and treat bags, just for starters. And it’s easy to let these demands take precedence over desk-bound tasks like marketing, billing, and the like. But the continued growth and success of your business depends upon these tasks, which depend on making the most of your desk time.
Break It Down
For dog pros, time is money, and we urge our clients to adopt a master schedule for both long-term and daily projects. Incomplete tasks (and their attendant worries) rattle around your head until they’re finished. Scheduling tasks—deciding exactly when you’re going to get them done, rather than relegating them to an ever-lengthening to-do list—makes tasks easier to get to and clears the mind of worry about them, providing you with a little extra focus.
When it comes to desk time, you’re no doubt faced with more than a single task. Marketing, emails, phone calls. Social media updates. Newsletter and blog writing. Professional networking. Hiring. Research and continuing education. Maintaining and sharing your expertise (and thereby growing your brand) require all of the above.
Divide your tasks into discrete chunks of time, anywhere from ten minutes to two hours, depending on their importance and difficulty. Anything with an alarm will do: a watch, a cell phone, even an egg timer. Start the clock and for the next few minutes, do nothing else.
It’s a well-known fact that a task will expand to take up the amount of time allowed for it. If you schedule an hour for emails, they’ll take the full hour. But if you schedule only 15 minutes, you’ll zip right through. So get a little ruthless with your egg timer. You might be surprised at your own efficiency.
Cut The Noise
The first time you try this method, your mind, accustomed to constant distractions, will rebel. Seemingly of its own accord, your hand will grip the mouse and click on Facebook, or that link to the YouTube puppy video. It takes time to retrain your brain and learn new habits.
So protect your focus. Close the door. Shut off the TV. Give your pups a stuffed Kong. Close your email and your browser and silence your phone.
If you habitually get lost while wandering the Internet, emerging three hours later with a fuzzy head and nothing accomplished, consider software programs like Freedom or Self-Control, which shut off your Internet connection for a predetermined length of time. If a tool helps you, use it. But don’t procrastinate by searching for the perfect system of productivity. You’ll learn more about your working process from your own trial-and-error.
Prioritize The Big Stuff
It’s tempting to want to clear the deck, tackling emails, phone calls, and billing before engaging in longer-term, bigger-picture projects like marketing or curriculum writing. Trouble is, too often those emails and phone calls swallow all your time, and once again you’ve put off the important work for another day. Unfortunately that other day exists only in some alternate universe, unreachable by us mere mortals.
Chances are those emails can wait another hour. A new blog post may be harder to write than an email, but fresh content on your website will boost your ranking on Google, making it easier for prospective clients to find you. Every time you sit at your desk, pick one big thing to work on, even if it’s only one chunk of a larger project. For a little motivation, imagine how you’ll feel with that blog post written. Now picture how you’ll feel should your day be lost to emails. Tackle the crucial business-growing stuff first, then clear the deck.
Take A Break
We can learn from our R+ training when it comes to desk time. So reward your own good behavior. Stretch, refill your coffee, reach down and scratch your dog’s ears. For a particularly egregious task you’ve just finished, you might even consider chocolate.
Leave It Neat
It’s probably happened to you: you sit down to write your next newsletter only to have the vacuum cleaner call your name. Who hasn’t cleaned a sink full of dishes when faced with a blank page? The price of procrastination is high, so we don’t put off your desk work until after you’ve cleaned the kitchen. But if you’ve had a successful day at your desk, with more than a few items crossed off your list of tasks, take a couple of minutes to tidy up. Piles of papers tend to attract more piles, but a clean office can make your next scheduled desk time easier to face.
Changing your routine (and building your business) doesn’t require expensive or complicated tools. When it comes to productivity, less can be more. A calendar, an egg timer, and a little bit of discipline is all you need. Armed with these tips, you can get more done during your desk time, and help put to rest the myth of multitasking.