Just like every other small business owner, I juggle a lot of tasks as the owner and founder of WORKetc.
One minute I’m overseeing development on our web app, and the next I’m on a sales call with a potential customer.
Sales, support, projects, finance—I’m basically both leader and member of these very different departments and more. I’m constantly switching between roles, tackling multiple tasks left and right.
That must mean I’m a multitasking god, right?
According to research by David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, only around 2% of people are actually able to really multitask.
I know I’m not in that 2%. Chances are you aren’t either.
And when we do try to multitask, we’re actually shooting ourselves in the foot. We end up killing our productivity and efficiency.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid the pitfalls of multitasking using WORKetc.
Don’t Multitask; Singletask!
As Psychology Today notes, the term “multitasking” is actually a misnomer.
We’re not really doing multiple tasks at the same time; we’re actually switching rapidly between these tasks, hence the much more correct term, “task switching”.
The more our brains keep switching between tasks, the longer it takes to complete them and the more prone we are to making errors.
A study conducted by professor Gloria Marks of UC Irvine’s Department of Informatics has shown that it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task we were working on after being interrupted.
Multitasking, which basically puts yourself in a position of constant interruption, actually wastes a considerable amount of time and productivity.
Just three interruptions in a day and that’s over an hour of wasted time; almost six hours’ worth of lost man-hours in a week.
So instead of forcing your brain to keep switching between tasks, just focus on one task at a time. This is called “singletasking”.
One simple way to help you keep your focus when singletasking is to create a task list and follow it to the letter.
WORKetc already has a built in task list, so you’ll always have a way to keep track of what you need to do.
Aside from listing all tasks assigned to you, you can also filter and save the list according to status, project type, client, who they’re assigned to, and when they’re due.
If you want to work on a specific project, for example, you can filter the list to see only those tasks assigned to you, and connected to that specific project.
If you want to focus on helping a specific client, you can also filter only for tasks created for that particular client.
And finally, your task list is there where you need to do your work. You can access it through any web browser, and if you’re out in the field you can access it through WORKetc’s iOS and Android mobile apps.
Schedule Similar Tasks Together
The big problem with task switching is that you end up paying considerable productivity costs for little to no gain.
This is most apparent when you’re switching between two wildly different tasks. Talking on your phone while driving, for example.
Let’s say the first thing you do when you get to work is check your email.
Now, if you come across any emails that would require you doing anything other than just reading and replying, you can shunt it off to one side for later. This is where the WORKetc Gmail gadget helps immensely.
Using the gadget, you don’t just set aside that email for later, you can actually turn it into a task, a sales lead, a support case, or a project update without ever leaving Gmail—or Outlook, if you’re using the Outlook add-in to do the same thing.
If you come across something best handled by someone else, you can quickly create a task and assign it to the most appropriate person within a few seconds right from your inbox.
When a client emails about an issue in their latest invoice, for example, you can immediately create and assign a task to someone from your billing department so they can quickly address the client’s concerns.
You can even attach the client’s original email to the task so the person you assigned it to can reply to the client directly.
By doing this, you get to stick to one task—checking emails—while preparing your tasks for the day at the same time. And it all happens without having to switch apps and suffer the consequences of context switching.
When you’re done with that, you simply fire up WORKetc and open your own contact page.
All those tasks, support tickets, and leads that you created using the Gmail gadget? They’ll show up on your activity stream along with any other items that may have been assigned to you.
Your own personal WORKetc activity stream is a running record of everything you’ve done and need to do for a client. It’s the entire customer lifecycle at a glance, with all of the data you need available to you with a few simple clicks.
I mentioned before that constant task switching adversely affects your productivity. This is due to changes in context; when you work on a sales lead and then immediately switch to working on a support ticket, for example, your brain needs some time to recalibrate itself for the next task.
That lost time adds up. You can stand to lose up to 40% of your productivity because of these brief mental blocks caused by constant context switching, according to the American Psychological Association.
A solution to this is to clustertask—do related tasks, one after the other, in one go. This way, your brain doesn’t have to recalibrate itself too much between each task.
Similar to the task list, you can use filters on your WORKetc activity stream to quickly access the information most relevant to you, exactly when you need it.
It’s not just limited to tasks, either. You can see all types of WORKetc activities and items in your activity stream: from emails and discussions to support cases and invoices.
Want to work on support tickets? Just filter according to activity type and tick the Support Cases checkbox. Want to lock down a few leads? Create an activity type filter for them.
Saved filters on your activity stream let you quickly pinpoint, concentrate, and work more efficiently on related tasks. Your brain—and your business—will thank you for it.
Run Your Business with a Single App
It might sound cool to have separate apps for each aspect of your business: “Oh, billing? Yeah, I’ve got an app for that. Projects? We have a different one for that, too.”
In reality, it’s not just expensive in terms of money (all those subscriptions can add up to a big chunk of your budget)—constantly switching between multiple apps carry the same productivity costs as task switching.
Context switching rears its ugly head again, here. Not only are you switching between tasks, you’re also switching between two completely different apps with completely different user interfaces.
Not only does your brain have to think about what to do and how to do it, it has to do that in the context of this new app UI you’re staring at.
It’s hard enough to focus when you’re constantly task switching on a single app, so imagine how much harder it would be doing that on multiple apps.
Now, I happen to enjoy that we have a very healthy app economy right now. These days, I could likely find an app for pretty much anything that I need doing.
But when it comes to running, managing, and growing a small business, too many apps is just too much of a good thing.
In fact, according to a recent survey by Harmon.ie, 67% of their respondents believed that they would be better able to focus on their tasks if they were able to do it using only one app.
One of the main issues identified by the survey was the headaches caused by having information in different, separate apps.
Some respondents had to open multiple windows to find information, and some still said that sometimes they couldn’t even find what they needed after searching through many different apps.
By combining CRM, projects, sales, support, and billing in one business management software, WORKetc makes the issue of app switching and its accompanying productivity costs moot.
Consider Perth-based IT firm Atcom Technology’s support workflow before they used WORKetc:
A lot of steps, related issues sometimes fall through the cracks, plus completing the whole process involves switching between different apps.
Remember how I mentioned that task switching can make you up to 40% less productive? Those findings seemed to hold true for Atcom, and more.
Company director Malissa Fonte reveals that their support agents typically took at least an hour for a single support ticket to go through the entire process.
Once they implemented WORKetc and became able to access all of the information they needed in a single app (and even a single browser tab, really), they were able to cut that hour down to a three-step process that takes all of 20 minutes.
That’s an increase in efficiency of at least 67%—and pretty much all Atcom did was put all of the information they had stored in different apps in one place.
One app, all your information. No switching needed.
That’s what WORKetc the app can do, and that’s how I’ve been able to run WORKetc the business without being a multitasking god.
I really enjoyed the article and agree with so much of it. I like to think I am a good multitasker but I also know that I really need to check my work once complete to ensure nothing has been missed. We use the Worketc gmail gadget very often, It is the easiest way we have found to add new contacts and clients we have started email conversations with to our contact database.
Good point about how you can kill two birds at once with the email plugin. Now i can say I’m just setting up tasks when I’m caught checking my email too much!
I hate switching between tasks at work, unfortunately there’s always some issue that comes up and forces me to stop bring productive and offer support!
This is a good read! I do find myself “multi-tasking” alot at work- basically just switching between many things, but not actually finishing one thing! WorkETC definitely helps me stay organized and check off finished projects.
I schedule everything out in the day, and give myself 10 minutes between tasks as a buffer, and a break. Using Work[etc] helps with that. Between the support ticket system, the GMail widget and integration with GCal, I can be pretty darn efficient without “multitasking”. Just look at one thing at a time and only look at the next thing when it’s time to!
One of the biggest hinderances to single tasking in my world is instant messaging and video chats that can happen at any moment, pulling my focus away from the task at hand. One thing I particularly like about the WorkETC discussion platform is that it allows the same functionality but isn’t so obtrusive in the way it alerts. As our company continues to find ways to integrate users via WorkETC, I’m sure we’ll move away from task switching and into higher productivity.
Great article. I often find myself distracted when trying to multi-task and deal with interruptions. Need to remember to come back to the app and the tasks – until now have been keeping tasks in Google Docs – but will transition them over to WorkETC and schedule them in – then can keep track on it that way.
Thank you for these words. My goal is always to block time out for certain things in my day. I also like to knock at least one big item off of my todo list everyday. In reality though, as a business owner, I feel like I get up in multitasking almost every single day, all day long. I posted this article in our company chat channel so we can discuss this. I am also thankful we found worketc. We don’t use the TODO’s yet but its the integral part of our everyday workflow.
You’re right about multi-tasking actually taking longer…and I consider myself good at it.
We’ll have to better integrate our process between Google Mail and WorkEtc. Time to revisit our initial setup. We use firstname.lastname@example.org and our actual support email ends up in WorkEtc for quick action (unassigned support tickets). Some routine tickets are closed immediately.
Some emails that are unassigned become assigned and categorized in batches via the small drop-down window.
One thing that would be really helpful: Unassigned Tickets being assigned, categorized, attached to a client AND prioritized via the quick drop-down.
Thanks for a good article.
Slowly, I am adding taking on the additional features that WORK[etc] has to offer. I find that becoming better acquainted with each one, helps us streamline our business. This article brings more light to me about additional benefits that I have overlooked in the system. Multi tasking is a problem for me, and most I suspect. We proactively look for ways to “Cluster” or “group” certain task, on a daily, weekly or once a month basis. This alone has helped us improve our productivity.
I used to consider myself “multitasking material”. However, most recently I’ve come to realized that I’m only multitaksing on similar taks. So, when I read this:
“Multitasking, which basically puts yourself in a position of constant
interruption, actually wastes a considerable amount of time and
It makes sense: if you have several different tasks to acomplish, you’ll end up “pausing and stalling” some of them simply because you cannot start them out of the blue. Some tasks, specially those that requires cognitive skills, are the hardest to focus on: and it usually requires preparation time. Swapping tasks can be a challenge if you are attempting 2 or more things that are not even related.
I can do remote support working multiple screens with multiple clients, as long as the taks are “equivalent”. That I can do, that I actually “master”. But if I have to code some web project and then I have to do some remote work, I really REALLY have a hard time getting back to the “zone” coding again.
I disable notifications on my phone, from mails. Problem is when I’m working on something and have to look through mails – then my eye is caught by a new mail, I’m distracted and forget what I was initially doing. That’s at least one advantage of WorkEtc – e.g. you have the whole history of a support case together in one place, no need to search around anymore.
Email is the biggest killer of productivity. We make sure we only answer out of WorkEtc. If it is not in WorkEtc, then it doesn’t exist! I set aside an hour a day to process my email and it is at the end of the day. I answer every email that should have been in work etc with the something to the fact that I could have helped them fast and sooner if they had contacted me through WorkEtc. Some clients are getting it and it is getting better. Those that do work with us in our system – are very happy indeed.
I totally agree with the fact that we really do not multitask but waste task. I find the task list and to do list I create keep me focused on the client I need to attend to and not go from 1 client to the next, confusing the tasks.
We use the outlook gadget to link customer emails to their files which helps create an undepth history of all of our transactions in the one place – this has helped with productivity immensly as we are no longer chasing individual staff for input into their dealings with clients. In reading this article I hadn’t realised thst yoy can actually create a task from the outlook gadget not just attach to an existing task/support case etc. Love it.
Linking the emails into the CRM helps us keep everything in a central point whilst having multiple email accounts active throughout the business.
Being able to link from an email directly to a job or a customer breaks down the process needed.
I work from home and sometimes my 3 children are here during work hours. With WorkEtc, I’m able to keep on task with the task list and also the projects so that I’m not jumping from one item to another. I can focus on helping clients with help tickets and then I can smoothly transition to work on a project or tasks that I have set aside for later that day. I know that there is always room for improvement and I look forward to using the app to better help myself be more efficient.