Time management, focus, and productivity are also the most common things solopreneurs struggle with. That means we all get tricked into silver-bullet strategies that (on paper) seem like great ways to get the most out of our time and help us focus on the right things.
Here are three standard “best practices” holding your business back instead of propelling it forward.
Multitasking is not only expected; in some cases, it feels like the only way to get everything done in our limited time.
- If we do not review that document during the Zoom meeting, it won’t be ready for our next call.
- We might miss something vital if we don’t peek at our email while making that presentation.
- If we don’t order our groceries while on that phone call, they won’t be ready to pick up by 5.
Multitasking asks our brains to concentrate on two different things simultaneously. We think we’re effectively concentrating on both things, but in reality, our brains can only focus on one thing at a time, so we’re just switching rapidly back and forth between two tasks at once. Neuropsychologists call this “task-switching.”
Task-switching is terrible for your effectiveness and your brain.
Multi-tasking has been shown to lead to a loss of accuracy and speed in tasks performed. When you switch from one task to another, there is an “attention residue” from your previous tasks that takes time to dissipate, meaning that you’re not entirely focused on the subsequent task immediately. This is especially prominent when the first task wasn’t finished (multitasking) but is still in effect even when the previous task was completed (context-switching). Multitasking has also been associated with declining working and long-term memory. In other words, multitasking makes us less effective AND breaks our brains.
For solopreneurs, the need to multitask is endemic for two reasons:
- We work for many clients simultaneously, so we’re not just switching tasks but completely switching contexts.
- We are one-person shows, which means that we also have to find time to run our businesses on top of all the client work.
To work effectively and not break our brains, we have to intentionally cultivate periods of deep, focused work and minimize multitasking as much as possible. One way to do this is to strategically structure your time so that you’re focused on a single type of work or a specific client at one time and minimizing distractions like email by confining them to a specific time in your day.
We must keep track of our tasks, or they’ll never get done. To-do lists seem a great way to keep track of everything so nothing falls through the cracks. The problem with a to-do list is that it lumps everything together in terms of time, conditions, urgency, and priority. When everything is lumped together, your brain has to expend a lot of energy trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. This choice overload means you spend less time doing the actual tasks and also end up focusing on the wrong things.
The first thing you must do is eliminate everything on your to-do list that isn’t important. You’ll be surprised how many things on your list are low-value or not aligned with your work.
Once you’ve narrowed things down, each task needs to be connected to a larger, overarching goal or project, which helps us recognize which things should be prioritized over others. Connecting tasks to overall objectives will also help you to triage your list further.
Each task also needs to be time-bound in some way so that we know what is feasible to accomplish and can map out our time in advance.
Instead of a to-do list, EVERYTHING should live on your calendar so tasks are confined to a specific time and prioritized based on urgency and priority. Time-blocking like this allows us to select the conditions for that specific task that will lead to successful completion (e.g., blocking out your mornings for writing time or confining your calls to specific days of the week). It also makes accomplishing tasks easier because you’ve taken out the guesswork of what to do next. Instead of looking at a random list of things, you know exactly what to do and when, which means you’re not wasting your mental energy on avoiding them, remembering to do them, or figuring out when.
Most business strategists and self-help gurus promote the idea of big goals, strategic plans, and long-term thinking. The thing is, those plans and goals aren’t going to help you when things change, and you have to adjust quickly. Setting goals should be an exercise in defining what success looks like overall, not limiting yourself to that definition of success at a specific moment in the future.
Instead of using static long-term goals to plan for a scenario that might be irrelevant in six months (or even tomorrow), create short-cycle goals with flexible targets that meet you where you are today and give you unlimited potential for the future. One way to do this is to set milestones for your goals farther into the future (a maximum of a year in advance) and then make detailed plans only 1–3 months in advance.
The key to these types of goals is building in time (on your calendar!) to revisit them regularly to adjust your targets as your context changes. I suggest monthly revisiting goals, milestones, and associated tasks and then a deeper review every quarter.