It would also be a fair guess that almost all of the managers of these small businesses must engage in multi tasking every day. In this author’s view there are only two types of multi-tasking: enjoyable or horrible. One will most likely either love it or hate it. Multi tasking is stressful either way, but it is very stressful for those who hate it.
Those who hate it are most likely to be persons who have difficulty concentrating and staying focused.
A simple test is this: do you enjoy and handle reasonably well such activities as watching TV and reading something light at the same time? Do you handle conversations fairly well while doing some other task at the same time? Can you follow two lines of thought at the same time without getting a headache? If so, there is no reason you cannot handle multi tasking and learn to enjoy it with a minimum of stress. That is the goal: achieving a minimum of stress and a maximum amount of satisfaction from multi tasking.
If your answer to the questions was no, then multi tasking needs to be approached slowly and carefully, knowing that it will cause you fits if you try to rush. It often also means hiring another person to assist you, or outsourcing some of the more vexing tasks such as accounting, billing or personnel management.
Napoleon Bonaparte, it is said, would dictate letters 12 at a time, using 12 secretaries. He would move from one secretary to the next, remembering where he had left off with each letter and continuing the dictation accurately as he made the rounds. That is a classic example of multi tasking! We should all be so gifted! Today’s world of small business management presents much less dramatic challenges but no less real.
We find ourselves trying to sort mail while answering a demand phone call. We try to finish something on the computer while jotting down important things to remember. Most frequently we find ourselves of necessity stopping a task half-finished because something more important, such as speaking with a distressed employee or demanding customer, has come up. Then we must return to the first task and hope to pick up the train of thought. The most common casualty of this inevitable stop and go work pace is filing. It is so easy to pile up things that need to be filed. The piles grow almost as if by magic.
Organization is the starting point for those wishing to take the pain out of multi tasking. And filing is the foundation for being organized. Never let a day go by without finishing the filing. The reason? Because filing is the secret to being able to find things. Spending time looking for information, letters, bills, receipts and messages is probably the number one cause of frustration. And therein lies the second key to taking out the pain of multi tasking: Turn frustration into satisfaction. This makes a joy out of what otherwise becomes a budding nightmare. Good order begins with finding things. Finding things begins with putting them where they belong. Putting them where they belong means attention to filing, every day, perhaps every few hours. Then, when it is time retrieve information there it is! Now the task has a chance to become satisfying.
Few, if any small business managers will be faced with the complexities of the magnitude that surrounded Napoleon. The manager’s work is simply not dramatic or earth shaking most of the time. In fact, it is so ordinary that the lack of challenge itself can become a road to burnout. The secret is always the same: get the tasks to be satisfying or they will get you to be bored and bitter. If this approach means taking more time, then so be it. Better work longer and get the job done right than to hurry and work in a constant state of uproar, frustration, disorganization and low-grade chaos.
The road to patience runs right through managing a small business. It starts with reflecting on the best strategies in your own case for handling multi tasking. No matter what the approach, there are fundamentals that help. These include an organized approach to filing, to laying out the day’s tasks and schedule with some sense of priority, keeping track of what needs to be done tomorrow, careful attention to messages, routine and clear notes in the date book and accurate posting of deadlines. These fundamentals are what turn frustration into satisfaction.
Finally: take frequent short breaks. The manager who only takes breaks when there is time to take a break will not last. There is never enough time to take a break because the work of managing is never finished. That is where the third secret comes into the picture. If the first secret to enjoying all of this is good order built on good filing then the second is turning frustration into satisfaction and the third is
Translation: schedule your breaks if you want them to happen.