Being an entrepreneur can lead to juggling quite a few responsibilities, keeping multiple plates spinning during your routine every day.
To do this, you are required to constantly switch tasks from focusing on work to answering emails, making phonecalls, checking on campaign progress, and so on. However, all that task-switching may not actually be good for your productivity or time management. While multitasking was only recently the favorite buzzword used for highly effective people, science has come out with a different answer.
Entrepreneurs are Constantly Switching Tasks
Entrepreneurs typically switch tasks constantly during the day. It’s one of the more challenging aspects of being your own boss and team, as there’s no one to delegate up or down the chain. Modern software can provide the tools you need to handle a small business from a central command desk, but the way you manage your time might not be as efficient as you think.
When you’re looking for a better time management strategy, it’s important to realize that task switching comes with a cost. You may already suspect from monitoring your own productivity, as the more you switch, the less you get done on your to-do list each day. There’s a scientific reason behind this loss of time that will allow you to maximize your time management once you understand where that efficiency loss comes from.
The Time Cost of Task Switching
Despite the multi-tasking trend, scientists have understood the cost of task-switching since the late 1990s when psychologist researchers led a sequence of experiments. Subjects were asked to perform a number of tasks ranging in familiarity and complexity. The goal was to measure how long it took people to transition from one task to the next given differing patterns, routines, and circumstances.
Unsurprisingly, the more complex the interwoven tasks, the more time is lost switching between them. However, more interestingly, even familiar tasks are performed more slowly when the subjects were required to switch to unfamiliar tasks in between.
The studies also suggested that the delay between tasks came from two different slow-downs in the brain: goal shifting and rule activation.
The Two Types of Task Switching
When we switch tasks, it takes some amount of mental power to shift from one mental gear to the next. The bigger the shift, the more time it takes to put your brain into a new pattern to perform the next task. Some multi-tasking is easy – like doing laundry while talking on the phone. But shifting from designing 3D engineering models to negotiating with clients can cause your brain to throw the brakes so it can reconfigure for the new task.
Executive Control is the brain power you use to direct yourself to a new task. It is split into two different processes for task-switching, goal-shifting and rule activation. These represent the way you change gears to prepare for a new task.
Goal shifting is how you determine what you have chosen to do next, including your desired outcome for the task. Every entrepreneur knows that setting goals for yourself is the key to meeting your overall performance metrics. So a failure to goal-shift during your mental task reassignment can result in doing things absent-mindedly without your goals as the driving force.
Rule activation is when you turn off the rules for one set of tasks and turn on the rules for a new set of tasks. In our example about 3D modeling vs negotiation, the rules for one suggest precision and careful calculations while the rules for the other require social empathy and verbal agility. Applying the wrong rule-set to a task can lead to a complete mess.
Understanding Task-Switching Delays
The delays caused by task-switching can be just a few seconds, sometimes even fractions of seconds, but these delays compound over dozens of tasks switched during the day. As an entrepreneur, you know how many times you switch tasks during the day and you can probably do a quick mental calculation about how many delays are being triggered as you switch your goals and rule-sets from one task to another.
Scientists also studied the difference between giving yourself time to switch and mental preparation due to rule-set carryover. Scheduling buffer time between tasks can reduce the delay, but not eliminate it. However, choosing tasks that share a rule-set can decrease the delay.
This reveals the secret that entrepreneurs may need to efficiently manage their time while also handling every task on their to-do list.
Managing Your Time While Wearing All the Hats
Knowing what you do now about task switching’s effect on time management, you can now build a more productive plan to take care of all your entrepreneur tasks without sacrificing those precious minutes of mental gear-switching every day.
Group Tasks by Goals and Rules
Choose tasks that share the same goals or rule-sets so that the mental shift between them is minimal. For example, grouping all your communication tasks separately from all your production tasks will help you focus better on both groups of tasks without switching in between.
Plan Large Blocks of Time with Similar Tasks
Plan your day in larger blocks of time. Dedicate mornings to one mental group of tasks and afternoons to a different group of tasks so that you can focus completely without the downsides of task shifting. This gives you more time to complete your to-do list in each category without time lost.
Schedule Productive Buffer-Time for Mental Gear-Shifting
Your brain is going to take time during a task-shift, so productively schedule that time. Stop for lunch, catch a quick workout, do a few chores, or go through your daily meditation as you prepare your mind to switch from one set of similar tasks to the next.
Reserve Focused Time for Unfamiliar Tasks
Unfamiliar tasks require the most mental shifting, so give them special time. Reserve time to focus on learning the goals and rules of a new task and let the task become familiar so that you can return to that task more efficiently in the future.
Minimize Interruptions with Automation
Reduce interruptions like texts and emails during your focused work periods. Use automated messages, status, and even chatbots to field incoming messages, and schedule specific times during the day to handle your communications or other interruptive influences.
Achieve Greater Productivity with Platinum Group Solutions
Planning your tasks in chunks that require similar mental configuration can vastly improve your productivity as an entrepreneur and your success in time management. Even better, by minimizing your mental task switching during the day, you may also achieve better mental clarity and reduce the mental static you experience as stress each day.
If you run your own business, Platinum Group can help to optimize your effectiveness and streamline your employee management through our cloud-based HCM solution, isolved. Contact us today to learn more.