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One of the things I like best about my business is being able to have a foot in several camps – I am the leader of a small business team and work with small business owners, I also work with large organisations both public and private. This week I have had the privilege of working with the RAF Benevolent Fund, the NHS, holding a strategy day with a small business client, running a couple of online coaching groups, being part of an exciting local learning initiative, all while preparing for our first global #EndPJparalysis Summit on 10th – 12th July (72 hrs of live discussion and presentations about improving patients’ lives from experts around the world – click here if you want to join in) and launching BraveFest 19 next week.

I’m not telling you all this to be big or clever, rather to highlight a couple of things: firstly, I’m so very grateful for the great people I work with every day – without whom all this would not be possible; and secondly, I don’t believe in multitasking. Mostly because neurologically, multitasking is not a ‘thing’, it doesn’t work like that, your brain simply switches rapidly between tasks – usually losing a bit of processing power on the way.

I’m sharing this because, like many of the small business owners, creatives and entrepreneurs I work with, I love the variety and breadth that this kind of work brings. It allows me to contribute in many ways and honestly feeds my sense of worthiness as I’m using most of the skills I’ve collected throughout my own working life. Juggling many priorities is, however, a blessing and a curse, it can be tempting to spin one too many plates and finish up not truly effective at any of them, as well as potentially creating bottlenecks in your own business.

So here are my tips for fellow ‘plate spinners’ –

Focus on one thing at a time – attempting to multitask is bad for your brain, many studies have shown it impacts on your concentration, your memory and your creativity as well as making it more likely you will make mistakes or feel anxious about what you are doing.  It’s not easy to focus when you feel you have a million things to do, I know, but it is essential to your wellbeing as well as your productivity. In a 2013 paper on the myths of multitasking, psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson reckoned it had the same effect as losing a night’s sleep.

Know how you get and stay ‘in flow’ – Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as immersion, energised focus, enjoyment and full involvement in an activity – to the extent you may lose perspective of time and space. In other words, you are consumed by what you are doing and all of your attention, neurological processing power and emotion energy are directed at the activity. Think about how you reach that state, what you are doing, how you feel and most importantly how you can replicate it in other areas.

Work with great people – this isn’t just about having team members. This is really about knowing the strengths of those around you – it might be your team, or people in your business network, it might also be your family and friends – understand how they support you being in flow and how they may disrupt your flow and work with them accordingly. Just a note, if you are lucky enough to have a team – whether co located, virtual or outsourced – don’t micro manage! Be clear about what you need and then stay out of the way of the doing. Yes, check in and help keep things on track, but if you work with great people let them do their great stuff.

Prioritise – rather than attempt to do too much and do less than you could, prioritise your most important actions for the day. This is not a carefully crafted multiple page to do list by the way, it is one or two or max three things that have to happen today (the number of ‘have tos’ will depend on the size of the tasks, not your perceived business by the way.) Focus on number one, then the next, then the next – I know this sounds over simplified, but it really does work. 

Take regular breaks – When I have weeks like my last one this is the only way I continually get stuff done – if I forget my just brain takes time out if I don’t create it. For example, I rocked up at a meeting Friday morning to do with developing our CoWork space and quite simply couldn’t remember the names of people I wanted involved, when the deadlines were – I felt a right numpty. The real issue was I’d bounced from one thing to another all morning not stopped for a drink or a few minutes not thinking space and my brain needed a short break. Luckily a breather and a cuppa and I’d recovered my focus. Now we are each different in our specific needs, but we all need downtime to process, fuel to work on – hydration and food, as well as sleep.

Know your limits – This is probably my biggest challenge, know when you have enough things on the go and say no or not now when you are at capacity – however exciting something looks. Taking on too much has several negative impacts and no positive ones as far as I can see. If you dilute your presence or focus you will at best do several things badly, more likely you’ll not get several things done at all. Mental wellbeing is a hot topic in most organisations I work with, at the same time the frequent drive for more with less. Being overwhelmed by your to do list, feeling out of control or that you are not doing a good job jeopardises your mental wellbeing super-fast – don’t fall into that trap!

Finally, remember that unless it is your craft – plate spinning is not good for your business – you in your zone, in your flow doing your best work is what your business needs.

If you need some time out to find your flow, re focus on your priorities or just take some time out around great people BraveFest 19 tickets go on sale on 3rd July.