When you’re engaged in critical money making activities, is it best to multi-task or single-task?
By far the answer in most cases is to single-task.
For a lot of us type-A entrepreneurs, this concept seems to defy logic as we assume we can spin more plates than the average person. The truth is we can spin more plates than the average person, but that doesn’t mean that all of that plate spinning is making us more productive.
As John Medina, author of Brain Rules says, “To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.”
Keep in mind that there are three phases to any activity:
- Start up;
- Winding down.
The “startup” and “winding down” phases take the same amount of time regardless of how long you spend “doing.” So for example, it takes the same amount of time to start up and wind down a one hour batch of recruiting calls as it does for a 15 minute batch of calls.
However the “doing” time is very different. According to Peter Drucker, one hour of uninterrupted time is worth 10 times the amount of four 15-minute segments because the leverage of the uninterrupted “doing” time has increased by that much.
From My Personal Experience
When I first started out as an executive recruiter, I was told that I needed to make 50 calls per day in order to become a top producer. I began tracking my calls and was surprised to learn that I was only getting out around 20 calls a day. For several days I tried to speed up my pace, but still ended up around the 20 call mark. I was becoming very frustrated as I knew I was capable of much better performance.
Then I made two critical changes:
- I started planning my calls out the night before; and
- I started single-tasking during my outgoing call batches.
The first day that I made these two changes, I jumped from 20 calls per day to 37 calls. Within a couple more days I was up to 50 calls per day. The result was that I witnessed an immediate jump in my performance and my self-confidence.
What I came to understand was that when I was only getting 20 calls out per day, I was multitasking and working in a reactive mode.
My Previous Schedule
Here’s what an hour of my time looked like while multitasking:
I’d make a sales call, then switch to a recruiting call, then I’d look up information on another prospect, then I’d take an incoming call from an applicant, then I’d enter some data into the database, then I’d make another sales call, then look up some company info, then I’d get a call from a person I couldn’t help, then I’d make a recruiting call, etc. Just typing this makes me feel neurotic.
I was working my ass off but was terribly ineffective.
When I began single-tasking, here’s what that same hour looked like: Make a sales call, make another sales call, make another sales call, make another sales call, make another sales call, make another sales call, make another sales call, make another sales call, etc.
I would not accept incoming calls during an outgoing call batch unless it was a critical, deal-making call. All other callers went to voicemail. I then returned their calls at the end of the hour in one batch. This made me much more productive.
Here are some ideas for implementing the power of single-tasking:
- Give single-tasking a try for just a small set of hours such as from 9 am-12 pm, to see how it affects your focus and productivity.
- Tell your staff/ family/ friends, etc. that you’re unavailable during prime work hours (9-12 and 1-4), and to hold their questions until you’re available, unless it’s a time sensitive issue.
- Let your calls go to voicemail while single-tasking (unless they’re money calls).
- Detox from constant email checking. Return all calls and check email at set times during your day.
- Separate preparation from execution. Do all of your research and planning for tomorrow at the end of the day today. Then tomorrow you’ll spend your golden hours performing without the need to think about what comes next.
- Batch your tasks into 50-minute segments and take breaks regularly to stay sharp.