The Art of Doing It All: Why Integration Beats Balance
Multitasking gets a bad rap; it’s challenging to do multiple tasks well simultaneously. But what about shifting gears at various intervals throughout your day — switching focuses to work on entirely different tasks? Much like our education system, where kids go from class to class and change subject matter as often as hourly, we can apply this segmented structure to our professional lives.
Personally, I need to switch subject matters frequently throughout the day in order to stay engaged and focused. Without this context switch, I find myself itching to begin more businesses. I started my first business at 25 after floundering in an insecure job market, and have often found myself with the desire to start more companies. I’d always known I wanted to have my own business, so I partnered with my twin brother and set up shop as a merchant services brokerage. The learning curve was steep, but we kept at it.
I grew that first business entirely by networking — something I love and that comes naturally to me. I was successful because my help came from a genuine place rather than a position of seeing personal gain, and others noticed. Because of this, I decided to start a side project to facilitate the meetings of young people in my city in a non-intimidating environment. Neither a collection of sales people nor a singles scene disguised as a networking event, I called it Atlanta Under 40. Fast-forward a few years and we now have over 200 people at different venues around town every month.
After a while, I also launched Atlanta Over 40 as a franchise-of-sorts, and my hobby officially became a business as it kept growing.
While putting together this networking group I was also quietly developing my third company, Finance Whiz Kids. After reflecting on the lack of critical personal finance lessons and doing some studying on my own, I wrote a series of children’s books that offer basic financial lessons as engaging stories. But in the process of publishing these I was forced to readjust my schedule and think about balance.
Can we have balance and should we strive for it? Isn’t it better to work towards a healthy integration of all the things we want to do in our lives and leave out being “too busy” as just an excuse? It’s all about your priorities.
For me, it’s important to be actively involved in all of my business ventures. This may change as they grow — I try to be honest with myself about what I’m willing to give up for the time to spend on these projects. But I’ve also gotten creative about fitting in other parts of my life, like building a yoga studio in my home to save time commuting. I’ve also become more selective about with whom I spend my time, whether socially or professionally. I’ve had to walk away from volunteer commitments because I could no longer give my all. But I don’t blame being “too busy;” my proprieties have simply shifted to focus on growing my businesses. Priorities readjust over time — I’m careful not to burn bridges and instead just be honest about my intentions.
As you take on more tasks, continue to fine-tune your efficiency by having a meticulous calendar and reminder system, and by lumping together similar activities to save time. You may even find that rather than feeling encumbered by an overly full schedule, you feel more fulfilled and energized by jumping from one thing to another during your day. Each task or project fulfills a different part of your spirit, and the process of multitasking improves your ability to trust others and delegate.
Although it often gets a bad rap, our education system — having six to eight class periods a day interspersed with a lunch hour and after school activities — set me up for success as a serial entrepreneur. This structure enabled me to now jump from credit card processing analyses to marketing an upcoming event to negotiating deals with a financial planning firm. Rather than feeling like it’s too much to handle, I generally feel grateful to have three thriving endeavors, and I love seeing how they overlap. Through this form of multitasking I’ve been able to take skills learned in one area and apply them to another.
My advice: Don’t let convention tell you that you can only do one thing well. If you’re capable of switching gears and are excited to take on the challenge, than don’t let fear of failure preemptively stop you. Instead, be motivated by the fear of what you might regret not trying. Take an honest stock of how you spend your time. What do you want to add into your schedule that you are “too busy” for?
If you want to include cooking lessons or writing a blog or spending time with loved ones — or even starting a business — you can. Instead of keeping these projects in silos, shift the way you look at your activities and think about effective integration. Invite your friends to take that class with you and write that blog when you’re waiting for your next meeting to arrive. If you aren’t getting much out of an activity or group you’re currently spending time on, consider gracefully walking away to make room for other things.
Your life may not always look the way you’d imagined, but by beginning to make small adjustments to incorporate things you love, you’ll see the value of an integrated approach.
Originally published at www.forbes.com on November 11, 2014.