How to Increase Your Productivity By Scheduling Your Day to Reduce Task Switching
Some days it can feel like everything is conspiring to interrupt your workday, and this really rings true when you work in a small business. There are so many disparate tasks, and so many things that don't have a clear procedure or a dedicated troubleshooter that it can feel like you're getting nowhere with your workload, despite all the effort you're putting in. There is actually a culprit behind this phenomenon, and that is "task switching".
What's the harm in task switching?
Task switching is when you interrupt one task to do another, and it seems like a regular part of work. You might be working on a report when you suddenly get an email or a call. This interrupts your current stream of thought, might make you minimize your spreadsheet so you can open an attachment or go to your calendar, and then even if you resolve the interruption quickly, it makes you take a bit of time to get your thoughts back on track. These rapid-fire interruptions throughout the business day are constantly being studied, and it turns out that shifting focus from one task to another causes a drag on people's overall productivity. This is due to both the physical transition time - and more importantly - the loss in focus; that lost focus can take over twenty minutes to fully recapture when people have to switch between projects, and escalates a worker's overall stress level.
In some roles it is much more challenging to avoid these interruptions than others. If you are a cook for example, you may have very little choice but to stop partway through making a salad to take a roast out of the oven, or flip the bacon on the flat top stove. It would be ideal in this situation to have a person designated to cover each station (salads, flat top, oven etc.), but in a small business this is often an unrealistic expectation due to labour cost. If you are in a job like this one which requires constant multi-tasking, having memory prompts positioned around your workspace may help. To return to the cook example, it would be helpful if above the salad which he was originally making, he had an order slip which listed all the toppings for the salad. This way when he returns, he can quickly check which ones he has already added against the list without having to commit these details to memory.
How can scheduling your workday reduce interruptions and increase your productivity?
You need to bunch together your tasks. Tasks that require the same modes of thinking, such as responding to emails and voicemails, doing expense reports, and verifying documents that have built up in your daily queue, and scheduling a block of time each day is much more efficient than responding to each individual prompt as they reach you throughout the day. So minimize your inbox and only go through it in the morning and around four o'clock in the afternoon. Schedule a time to go through your Salesforce queue, and, if you have weekly meetings, schedule them for the same day if you can. That last tip sounds particularly stressful, especially if you have to prepare for each one, but bunching them together lets you stay in 'meeting mode' without having to change your thought process.
Days in a small business can be hectic, and any scheduling that you can do to organize your day will make everything seem more manageable. Here at REM Web Solutions, we need to optimize our time. There is quite a diverse workload spread over a small number of individuals, as this is a small business. We have had to hone our time management skills and tailor them to our roles here. It takes time and experience to understand and know what tasks to place at what point in the day and in what order.
By properly scheduling your workday and sticking to your plan even in the face of stress or the tempation to read that email that has just come in, you will end up getting far more accomplished in your day and will be able to give each task 100% of your efforts and attention. For more small business tips and how to optimize your website, check out our blog twice weekly.