How to Multitask as a Business Owner

Man multitasking on his way out of a building Bill Zipp

As an entrepreneur, multitasking is a hugely important skill to possess. Given the vast array of tasks that will require your attention – and the lack of time available in which to complete them – it's vital that you are able to juggle your responsibilities as and when required. 

While not everybody is a natural at this, the good news is that effective multitasking can be learnt. There are specific techniques you can utilise and concepts you can master, enabling you to get more done and maximising your output.

To illustrate how you can get better at this, we've compiled an in-depth guide on how to improve your multitasking skills.

How to Multitask

The secret to multitasking isn't in trying to do everything at the same time; instead, it's about doing things effectively. For some, this might mean being productive, but when you are a business owner, you might want to look at your tasks and reconsider what productivity actually means. 

For instance, spending a month on getting your business website up and running might sound productive, but what if you then have to tweak and fix bugs for the next six months? Would it instead be better to give yourself three months, working through pre-determined and scheduled phases for the services you will be offering? These are important questions to consider, as productivity shouldn't equate to burning yourself out early on. It's about completing tasks effectively, rather than in bulk.

Here are some essential concepts and approaches that can enable you to multitask better:

Plan Well and Set Priorities

When you don't multitask well, your performance will inevitably drop. This is because your focus is spread across several tasks, torn between ideas and to-dos. To perform better, you need to focus on one thing at a time. 

In other words, you need to decide on your priorities. As a business owner, your tasks do not – and should not – carry the same weight.

Instead of attacking everything at once, take the time first to write your tasks down. You can create broad goals and fill them with smaller, doable ones, then create a plan with realistic deadlines for each item on the list.

This way, you can stay focused for longer, and you have a structured checklist of what has been done and what hasn't. You can even mark your progress as you move along.

Manage Your Time Carefully

Now that you have a plan, you need to manage your time effectively. 

There are several ways to do this, including time-blocking, which is deciding in advance what you will be doing for each part of the day. For example, between 8 am and 9 am, you could be checking and responding to emails, while from 9 am to 10 am, you might be conducting progress reviews with your team members. Some entrepreneurs even time-block their entire day, including sleeping times, meals, and personal errands.

In today's digital world, you don't even need to keep a diary to hand, either. There are numerous time management apps available that can help you get a hold of your schedule.

Reset and Reboot 

Entrepreneurs are often told that their business should be a 24-hour obsession, but the reality is that working endlessly will only result in exhaustion and, eventually, burnout. Multitasking requires large amounts of brain activity, and if you push things too far, you will focus less and perform your tasks inefficiently. 

Therefore, it's vital to give yourself short breaks. There are several study-backed concepts you can apply here, such as the 52:17 method, or the Pomodoro Technique; the key is to find a method that suits you, and stick to it. 

Whatever you choose, don't deny your brain the break that it needs. By asserting that you will complete "just one more task", you will get tired faster, your focus levels will reduce, and you will start postponing the tasks you included in your priorities list. 

You might feel as though you are wasting time when so many things need to be done, but taking breaks will always enable a better end result.

Drop the Distractions

Procrastination is an affliction that affects everybody, but it is particularly dangerous for entrepreneurs. Constant distractions from phone calls, text messages, and emails will result in zero focus – and lots of frustration.

Instead, put a sign on your door asking people not to enter during specific times, silence your phone and close your inbox. Of course, it's important that you are reachable, but if you find that you are not getting anything done, it might be time to head "off the grid" for a little while.

Group Similar Tasks 

When taking a quick look at your plan, you may notice tasks that are similar in nature, such as contacting suppliers and vendors. These can be grouped, which may save you some time. That way, you get the sense of having achieved more and will feel less jarred when switching between tasks.

Set Realistic Goals

Consider the following scenario. You create a plan and list the tasks that you need to do, but by the end of the day (or week) you are still unable to tick anything off. This could mean that there have been too many distractions, but it's more likely that you have set yourself unrealistic tasks and deadlines.

Instead, try to divide each large task into smaller segments and set yourself a more achievable timeframe. This way, you can get more done, and you will feel much better when you see your to-do list getting shorter.

When Shouldn't You Multitask?

Although it's important to stay on top of everything and maximise your productivity, there are certain times where juggling your focus is not recommended.

For example, if you are writing a proposal or a contract for a potential client or supplier, it is best to block out all distractions and focus your energy and concentration on that one task.

The same applies to any item that has vast implications for your business. If it means that you fall a little behind on your more menial tasks, then so be it; when accuracy and attention to detail are crucial to a task, don't try to get ahead of yourself.

What the Experts Say

As mentioned, multitasking is a must-have skill for business owners. But how does this tie into the early-stage problems of a startup, and what solutions have real-life entrepreneurs found to run their business more effectively?

Paul Higgins, the founder of Build Live Give, says that when launching his business, he did most of the tasks himself. This included invoicing, admin, sales, marketing, client delivery, and research. "I was working 14 to 16-hour days," he says. "The only activities I outsourced [were] legal, accounting and graphic design".

He then hired a virtual assistant (VA), who worked ten hours a week completing basic tasks and arranging a schedule. This, he argues, is a game-changer. "Start with 20 hours a week and then move to 40. This forces you to let go and the VA can build systems for you as the demand increases."

Meanwhile, Salma El-Hariry, the co-founder and managing partner of S[k]ale Up Ventures, affirms the importance of multitasking – especially when it comes to the day-to-day nitty-gritty of running a business. "This is not in a micro-management sense," she adds, "but more that entrepreneurs need to be aware of everything that goes on in their business".

El-Hariry defines herself as a one-task-at-a-time person, and argues that time management is about focus – not about getting everything done at once.

"If you want to multitask correctly, you need to be present and conscious [of what you are doing], so you don't feel like you're running around doing a million things. If you're in a meeting, focus on the meeting and do it well."

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As these methods, techniques and testimonies show, multitasking is an essential skill that can be trained, developed and implemented. Instead of rushing to finish everything at once, carefully define what requires your attention the most urgently, and be smart in your approach.

How do you manage your workloads? Let us know your own multitasking tips and opinions in the comment section below!