You’re arranging your notes for the morning meeting while trying to instruct an employee about a project — when the phone rings. If this sounds familiar, you’re a business multitasker. Sometimes, having to do two or more things at once is unavoidable. Often, though, interruptions and last minute emergencies can be avoided altogether. These tips will help you deal with some common multitasking challenges:

Let the computer do it. Integrated software options allow you to perform a task once, which is then implemented or scheduled throughout the application. You make a single entry, and the computer does the rest. It’s one way to avoid duplication of effort and save time. You can spend lots of money on software, but there are effective integrated options at many price points that can help you with:

  • Accounting
  • Inventory control
  • Asset management
  • Contact management
  • Scheduling
  • Expense tracking
  • Project management
  • Human resources

Establish guidelines. The more you empower your workers, the less they’ll need you to oversee and approve their efforts. It’s easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging, especially if you’ve had problems with employee errors in the past. The solution isn’t to oversee everything yourself, though. Hire reliable people, and trust them to perform their assigned tasks well. Once you have a system that works, don’t keep it a secret. Train, cross train, and standardize the way you do things. Write your policies and practices down so someone stepping in for a sick worker, or training a new hire, can become productive quickly without involving you.

Adopt a closed door policy. You want to make your staff feel you’re accessible, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in the center of the action all the time. If your door is open, you’re inviting interruptions. Take advantage of that big piece of wood by using it as a barrier between you and the day to day activities of your business — especially when you need to concentrate on something important. There’s a side benefit to this. The interruptions that do occur will alert you to areas of your business that need work.

Do less with more. If you’re trying to pay bills and talk on the phone too, you’ll do both badly. When you concentrate more of your attention on one thing, you’ll be surprised at how productive you’ll become. In the end, you’ll be able to work faster, getting as many or more things finished with less stress and fewer mistakes.

Prioritize tasks. You’re not immune to the pressures of running your small business, and the more balls you have in the air at any one time, the more likely you are to drop (and break) one. Before you address a worker’s quick question, take an unwelcome call, or try to do one more chore on your way out the door, stop and evaluate the situation. Of all the things demanding your attention at that moment, choose one, and do that exclusively. You can train yourself to prioritizing your time and hone your focus.

One byproduct of changing the way you approach business challenges is that others will get the idea and begin to work within the new problem solving structure you establish. You’ll stop being the go-to guy for every little thing, which will help others achieve their potential and free you to pursue more important tasks.

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