Working as a bookkeeper means moving back and forth between projects from payroll to bank reconciliations to bill paying.
When you run your own bookkeeping business, it also means moving from client to client regularly, ensuring that each person’s business records are kept up to date and reports delivered in a timely fashion.
That would be complicated enough, but nobody works in a vacuum. Add to that mix the challenges of family life, perhaps caring for children or ill family members or friends, building relationships, and connecting to your community.
It is understandable if there are days you feel like the circus performer keeping all the china plates twirling simultaneously overhead. One moment of inattention means a plate will come crashing down and break.
In a bookkeeper’s life, the ability to keep all those plates spinning is called multitasking.
It is also a threat to your health and the well-being of your business, the latest scientific studies indicate.
Multitasking can overload your brain
There was a time when every prospective job candidate proudly declared their accomplishment as a multitasker, wearing their plate-juggling ability like a badge of honor and a way to get the jump on their competition.
But science is now telling us what we thought was an asset may be a threat to our business.
It turns out that our brains work better when they can focus on one single task for a longer period of time.
Earlier research was already beginning to raise doubts about the benefits of multitasking. In fact, previous studies showed that performing several tasks at one time actually reduces productivity by up to 40 percent.
Now a study led by Aalto University Associate Professor Iiro Jaaskelainen tells us that changing tasks too often interferes with our brain activity.
In other words, you will do a better job if you can focus on one job at a time, rather than flitting from one to another.
Jaaskelainen told Medical News Today in a News Release published April 27, 2017 that he would recommend completing one task each day as opposed to working on a dozen different tasks daily.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of multitasking. In that case, it seems like there is little real progress and this leads to a feeling of inadequacy. Concentration decreases, which causes stress. Prolonged stress hinders thinking and memory,” he explained.
Newest research supports earlier findings
Two years earlier, scientists were already starting to raise the alarm bells about multi-tasking and its danger in the world of business.
Neuroscientist Earl Miller of MIT told The Guardian in an online article Jan. 18, 2015 that our brains are just not wired to do multitasking well.
“When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” In fact, it is estimated that when switching from one task to another it can take as long as 23 minutes to renew your focus on that new task.
A similar study from the University of London showed that people who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops. In fact, the drops were the same as those chronicled in people who don’t sleep for a night or who smoke marijuana. Who knew you didn’t need to smoke a joint to get high…you just multitask. ☺
If that’s not enough bad news about multitasking, it has also been identified with an increased production of cortisol, the stress hormone.
How to get everything done without multitasking
How can bookkeepers get all their daily tasks done without falling into the multitasking cycle?
For many, it will mean a change of work habits, but the results will be for the better.
It turns out that the best thing you can do to keep yourself and your business healthy is to work off one prioritized list every day. It should make it clear, from top to bottom, what needs to be done and in what order. A great tool to help you with this is the Eisenhower Matrix designed to help you prioritize your tasks.
If you work with others, you have to share that list and make sure everyone is aware of it and follows it.
Unless there are rare and extenuating circumstances, do not allow yourself to switch your top priority tasks around. Once you have considered your day’s priorities, leave them as they are and stick with them.
As you tackle each task, create the time and space to complete it without interruption. Again, if you work with others, this may require some retraining or door-closing to make it clear that you are focused on getting one item off the day’s agenda.
Encourage those who work with you to pay respect to the time and schedule of their work as well, and discourage all distractions.
The trick of establishing priorities
We tried this plan out within our own business and stumbled on the first rung of the ladder: how were we to establish which of the many important tasks of the day should be the top priorities?
We considered all the ways that projects could be calculated, by time, by size etc.
In the end it was clear to us that the one measurement we could all embrace was to ask: which projects are of the most value to our business?
Yes, we know that they are all important, and we might make mistakes in our calculations.
But at the end of the day, as long as we have a reasonable priority list, the better off we are at reaching our goals.
We also understand that try as we might, there will still be some interruptions to our day, whether in the form of a call from a family member or an urgent message to pick up a child who becomes ill at school or day care.
But knowing that does not give us an easy out in committing to a new way of working. In the long run, we will perform better doing one task at a time and our business will be stronger and our clients served better because of it.
A great book to read on this topic of getting things done is Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy available on Amazon.
Remember this blog is for you and we sincerely hope you will enjoy the content.
We will be providing you with more information to help you Learn, Build and Manage your Firm in future posts, so stay tuned.
Please let us know if there are any specific topics you would like us to address in the future.
Copyright: Jason Salmon / 123RF Stock Photo