If you're a small business owner, you probably feel like you can't work fast enough. You probably move from one task to the next without always having time to finish what you started.
You may interrupt meetings to pick up your cell phone or respond to emails while on conference calls. You probably even sometimes scarf down lunch while responding to emails and text messages during conference calls.
Although it may sometimes feel like it, behaving in these ways doesn't necessarily mean you're crazy. But it certainly means you're crazed. More important, operating in this way nearly always carries a hefty price tag.
For starters, multitasking has repeatedly been found to lower productivity, and in some case, by as much as 40 percent. Racing through 14-hour marathon days burns you out, which reduces your mental sharpness and clarity. This increases the chance you'll make mistakes, and decreases your ability to think creatively, to innovate and to be strategic. Your team is also often negatively affected. They may think they should model your behavior or, worse yet, reduce their efforts because they conclude it is impossible to keep up.
You probably have heard the saying, "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm sure making good time." Resist this idea. Instead, strive to know where you and your team are going and make good time.
If you're not convinced that you can afford to slow down, ask yourself how many great ideas have come to you in the shower, while on a long drive, or while exercising? The best way to fuel improved productivity, innovative thinking, and smooth business operations is not to go, go, go 100 percent of the time, but to take regular opportunities to slow down and give yourself time to think or even to just let your mind wander.
Here are four tactics worth trying:
1. Clear your mind and desk. It's difficult to plan what you want to accomplish when your mind is rife with to-dos, papers are piled high on your desk, and your inbox is bursting with mail. Organize it. Get rid of clutter. Then think about and decide what you want to do and the order in which you want to do it.
2. Set goals and look for early wins. Identifying and then taking small steps to reach your goals will enable you to generate positive, ongoing momentum in the right direction. If you want to close more sales, for instance, try scheduling specific time blocks to pick up the phone and call the people you've been meaning to call, write the people you've been meaning to write, and schedule the meetings you're not getting to because you're too busy reacting to fires. Don't forfeit this scheduled time to other things that pop up.
3. Don't confuse activity with productivity. Many business owners are adrenaline junkies. They often get immediate satisfaction by going fast and doing a lot at once. But just because you're busy doesn't mean you're accomplishing your goals. Realize that you might not be as effective or efficient as you could be if you just slowed down, and took a break to regroup and think about each task. Yes, you may be able to simultaneously send text messages, respond to emails, and take notes during a meeting, but are you really paying attention to each task? Are you providing thoughtful feedback and looking for opportunities to be more strategic? Probably not.
4. Encourage your employees to slow down too. Explain to your employees why it's important to find opportunities to slow down at work and share your methods for doing so. Invite suggestions from your team on how to improve productivity, decompress and re-energize. Hold a fun event for employees or treat everyone to free ice cream at lunch to foster break time. This will help you create a more productive, cohesive and enjoyable workplace.
Schedule a time to try one or more of these approaches for slowing down, and see how they affect your productivity and ability to reach your goals.
Yes, busy is good. But crazy busy is, well, just crazy.
Doug Brown is an academic program manager for Post University, working in the Waterbury school's corporate innovation and entrepreneurship concentrations within the online MBA degree program. He has more than 20 years of practical experience growing and turning around entrepreneurial organizations. He also is an experienced attorney and general manager with hands-on experience in virtually every function that companies must master to grow.