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Achieve practice success with monotasking

Monotasking is the new multitasking, writes Jon Martingale, while providing useful tips to set us on the right path.

Achieve practice success with monotasking
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  • Contributed by Jon Martingale
  • March 26, 2020
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What are some of the biggest barriers preventing business owners, accountants and bookkeepers from achieving peak performance?

  • Administration tasks;
  • Stress and lethargy; and
  • Interruptions.

The remedy to these burdens can be found in the art of monotasking.

If you are to run your practice efficiently, you need to find methods to get through these tasks, stay on point and get onto the real workserving your clients.

Our recent research involving over 1,300 small businesses highlighted the situation.

  • Our research found that the pressure of administrative tasks and red tape has caused 58 per cent of small business leaders to make an error that has had a financial implication, such as over or underpaying a supplier or employee, or transferring payments to the wrong person.
  • This could also be due to time-poor small business leaders trying to juggle several things at once. Eighty-four per cent say they have done their business admin or reporting while multitasking – for instance, a quarter have watched TV or used a streaming service while doing admin tasks.

Don’t multitask – monotask

You might think you are good at multitasking. Sure, you feel busy, because you truly are busy. But you are not effective.

“We can all appreciate the attempt to do multiple things at once. However, the common wisdom is that this is a false economy, and these findings shows that errors that could come from juggling tasks may indeed cost time and real money,” said Sam Allert, Reckon chief executive.

Trying to tackle several tasks at once is a recipe for disaster, as multiple studies have shown including a recent study by the American Psychological Association which found: “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.”

It is natural to fall into the trap of bouncing between incomplete tasks and at the same time fielding unexpected yet regular workloads and distractions, but this will negatively impact your practice. Becoming distracted and juggling several competing tasks can be the difference between missing an important client call, forgetting to pay an invoice or filing a tax return. Your business will suffer.

What you need to start doing instead is monotasking.

Monotasking methods

Monotasking or single tasking, as the name suggests, is the art of tackling one thing at a time. It is the art of concentrating on a single task all the way to completion.

The idea is simple enough – minimise interruptions, eliminate competing tasks, get focused and achieve greater productivity and success.

Some strategies to help you monotask include:

  • Properly schedule and maintain a calendar or task list;
  • Sort tasks by size, importance or priority;
  • Set aside two to four hours a day for deep focused work;
  • Locate peak performance time so you are in the zone when you work;
  • Eliminate distractions; and
  • Choose two major tasks a day with meaningful outcomes.

Break it up people

Breaking up tasks into pieces? I know you have heard this one before. I bet many of you don’t do this though, right? You should try it.

A great way to stay in the zone and keep on your mono tasking path is to slice up your large tasks into mini-projects and knock them down one by one.

Monolithic tasks will always intimidate and bamboozle. It is far too easy to let them conquer you, so engage them piece by piece to keep you free enough for focusing on other tasks, engender a sense of achievement and of course, eventually knock it on the head. Simply create tasks or to do cards on each aspect of the project and forget that they even form a whole.

You should also be breaking up your day in a similar fashion to your tasks.

Hard things come first followed by easy wins as the day peters out. So, the first thing you should do is not reply to emails or spend the morning tidying up little admin tasks – do these at the end of the day. You should first have a great system of hierarchy. For example, if you use a tool like Trello, you can assign colours and due dates to your cards and these can be used to indicate the importance or category of tasks.

You should not have to guess or spend time discovering each day what that important task is – keep your calendar updated and ensure each evening your next day is already mapped out. Remember:

“Those that can streamline work for peak performance are not only more profitable, but they can invest more time and money in staff, marketing and innovation, to get ahead of the competition,” said Mr Allert.

Hit the silencer

Get off social. Snooze your email notifications, go dark on Slack, silence your phone. This is incredibly important in terms of productivity, and increasingly difficult to perform in the digital soup of modern life. There is no denying it – taking yourself ‘offline’ may be the most difficult aspect of monotasking and staying in the productivity zone. Our research shows that "more than two thirds (69 per cent) of small business leaders have been distracted by technology whilst trying to complete admin."

‘Ding’. That’s your phone again… your hand reaches for it because it’s too irresistible and quite simply, a habit that’s hard to break. ‘Did someone just like my photo from yesterday?’ It’s 10 minutes later after a fruitless scrolling session through Instagram that you come around. What were you doing again? Oh yeah, you were working on a client presentation to win some much needed new business and you just forgot that winning point you were about to add. Thanks social media!

One of the worst enemies we have when it comes to focusing and achieving productivity is distraction. There are just so many and they are all so very ‘important’. In our research we indeed found that “A quarter (25 per cent) of business leaders have watched TV or a streaming service whilst they’ve done their admin.”

Every time the phone rings, a TV blares, an email dings or a social post sounds, you not only lose that time you spend on the distraction, you lose your train of thought, increase stress, increase confusion and deny yourself productivity.

It does look like some people are getting onboard though as 42 per cent of our research businesses proactively eliminate distractions, including turning off their email or phone at some point during their workday.

So, what can you do?

  • Set three times a day for email (e.g. 8am, midday and 5pm);
  • Silence all notifications and put your phone in a drawer;
  • Set two periods a day for social browsing, preferably over lunch or coffee away from the desk;
  • Close all browser tabs and windows except the one you need;
  • Consider noise cancelling headphones or a closed door; and
  • Let your staff know your calendar of ‘focus time’.

Schedule unscheduled time

That might seem like a tongue in cheek joke for the over organised, but accountants often neglect the important balance to work – your off time.

The idea behind monotasking is to increase genuine productivity while reducing errors, stress and wasted time. The aim, after your practice’s success, is to also allow as much time as possible with family, kids, friends or doing activities and hobbies which are important to your happiness. To do this, your schedule should not merely be a list of tasks to complete and people to contact, it should also be a map to leisure.

In short, your brain needs breaks and your satisfaction with life does too. So schedule them as an important part of your day, like a meeting. You can do this via clear barriers such as concrete work start/stop times.

This will also help you truly switch off and be present with your loved ones and friends. Too often the result of multitasking is a sense of ‘there’s something I should be doing’ when in fact there is nothing you need to do. It’s called attention residue and it prevents you from relaxing healthily as your mind reels from always tackling multiple work tasks. It is clear from our research that this is quite necessary advice:

Eighty-four per cent of small business leaders said they would make a lifestyle sacrifice because of admin workload or requirements, with 50 per cent specifically saying they would sacrifice their wellbeing, including sleep.

Instead of sacrificing, we need to get better at monotasking, removing distractions, working smarter and becoming consummate schedulers. It’s a sure fire way to stay in the zone.

Jon Martingale, senior product and partner manager, IFA Books+

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