As a small business owner, it's easy to find yourself wearing too many hats at once, and becoming overburdened with an ever-growing to-do list. As you tackle a wide range of tasks, from hiring and managing staff, to accounting and marketing, it's important to optimize your workflow to increase productivity, so that you have more time to focus on growing your business.
To help entrepreneurs maximize their productivity, we spoke with 8 successful small business owners and asked them to share their best productivity tips for busy entrepreneurs.
1. Use tools to measure your productivity
Ross Wehner, Founder and Career Coach, WehnerEd LLC
If you’re serious about staying focused on your goals and gradually reducing the number of distractions in your life, install activity trackers in your web browser and on your smartphone, that will quantify exactly how much procrastinating you did on social media and Candy Crush. These apps are simple, operate in the background and can provide a score of how well you do day-to-day or week-to-week. I personally use the TimeStats plugin for Google Chrome and luckily, iOS tracks my app usage in the battery stats section of “Settings” on my iPhone.
Another simple tool that I use daily is a timer. I owe much of my productivity (personally and professionally) to a simple timer app on my Mac called Be Focused. Right before I start my playlist—and always with a clear picture in my mind of what I’m going to accomplish—I set a 40-minute timer for all-in, distraction-free productivity. No texts, no email, no reading the news, nothing but 100% progress.
By setting the expectation in advance that nothing can get in my way while the timer is running, I find it much easier to push aside temping distractions that could spiral into hours of sloth. Similar to how meditation involves the practice of recognizing thoughts that could derail your bliss, timer mode is your time to quiet your wandering mind. If something important does cross your mind, take a quick moment to jot down a note for you to follow up with later and jump right back in.
Another option that Tim Ferris mentioned in his book ‘The 4 Hour Body’ is a website called Stickk.com. The premise of this site is simple: set a goal for yourself, and set a penalty if you fail to achieve it. Finish your registration with Stickk by choosing a referee to hold you accountable, and off you go. See if this site doesn’t motivate you!
2. Quality over quantity
Janine Low, Principal/Owner, Mad Hatter Marketing and Event Planning LLC
Find the time of day where you are your best and work on all the tasks that require the most of your brain here. For me, I work best in the evening after 8pm. Of course, I still must schedule some client meetings during the regular work day, but all my creative juices flow best after my son is in bed and I don't have to worry about anything else but doing a good job and getting stuff completed.
Work-Life balance is imperative for your sanity and for your overall success and the ultimate success of your business and the clients you serve. Another reason I like working at night much better than during the day is so I can go play outside and enjoy the sunshine. Sometimes I work outside but have found that I am much more productive if I enjoy my days and then work hard after dark.
Take regular breaks to recharge and get out of the funk as I like to call it. After you have completed a task you set out to accomplish, reward yourself with a little 10-15-minute break doing something that is not related to work. My guilty pleasures include crosswords and a home design app.
Keep a running list somewhere of everything that needs to be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. I like using Google Tasks to create an ongoing checklist of things I need to get accomplished and put date deadlines on all of them to keep me organized. The best part is when you can check them off! I have also created weekly task tables in Google Docs that are shared with my clients so they can see what I am working on and I can keep myself accountable.
3. Automate repetitive tasks
Charu Babbar, Co-Founder, ProductivitySpot
My top tip for any small business owner is to invest time and resources in automation. Often, small business owners automate the standard email marketing, website sign-ups etc. They often forget to automate most of the tasks which consume their maximum time like payments, invoicing etc.
Zapier offers many such useful automation options. These are called zaps. Their comprehensive directory of all existing zaps is a good starting point for any entrepreneur.
4. Control your own schedule
Zondra Wilson, President/CEO, Blu Skin Care
While working in an environment where everyone can view your Google or Outlook calendar can be convenient, it can also set you up for problems if you don't take control of your time. Others may view empty spaces as opportunities to schedule meetings, even if you intended to use the time for other stuff.
Instead of leaving your calendar in the hands of others, block out the time you need to handle critical tasks. That way you won't be derailed by an unexpected meeting request.
Some people thrive under pressure, allowing them to accomplish more than they originally thought possible in a given time frame. You can recreate that sensation by blocking out less time than you think you need. Often, you'll find your focus improves when you begin working and ultimately finish on time.
5. Learn to delegate
Mike Kozlik, Owner, The Alternative Board – Central Alabama (TAB)
One of the best, yet most difficult, ways for business owners to increase productivity in the workplace is proper and thorough delegation. Business owners/leaders must gain trust in their staff members' abilities to accomplish tasks with minimal direct supervision. Management must learn to “pin the rose” on someone for some task and give them the necessary tools and authority to execute that task to the fullest. Each action that is touched by the least number of people is an efficient process. In doing that one simple, but difficult task—proper delegation—businesses become more and more productive.
6. Use a digital task list to keep your mind clear
Frank Buck, Principal, Frank Buck Consulting
I use a free web-based tool called Toodledo along with the companion mobile app. Every time a task comes your way, put it on the task list. From there, it's a simple a matter of looking at what you have entered. Assigning an appropriate date to each task, and you have a plan for today and beyond. You'll never rewrite a to-do list again. As an added benefit, you can get rid of those sticky notes from around your computer monitor.
A digital list allows you to search, a powerful advantage over paper. When Jim walk in the door unexpectedly, search for Jim and watch the list shrink to only the things you need to discuss with him. When you have wait time, search for “Call” and you are looking at all the phone calls you can make during your wait.
A good digital list also allows you to add tasks with your voice. Since your phone is with you always, adding tasks when they first land on your radar is a breeze.
7. Prioritize a few important projects
Carla Biesinger, Online Marketing and Business Strategy Coach, Carla Biesinger
Planning out my week in advance and setting my 3 most important tasks for each day has completely transformed my productivity and my business. At the beginning of the week, I decide on 1-3 big projects I want to accomplish by the end of the week. I break these big projects down into specific tasks and at the end of each day, I decide on the 3 most important tasks I need to accomplish the next day. Doing that means that I can get up and know what I need to work on instead of feeling overwhelmed and confused.
This technique has helped me structure my days and weeks and allowed me to see the progress I make in my business. As a new entrepreneur, there are always more things you could be doing, so it can be hard to allow yourself to unplug and have that work-life balance without feeling guilty that you should be working on your business.
8. Use the 80/20 rule
Joshua Feinberg, VP and Co-Founder, SP Home Run
Track your time to determine which time expenditures are driving the top 80% of your company's results. Many professions have this time-tracking culture built in because of billable hours: attorneys, accountants, IT consultants, and creative experts for example. Yet there are so many more industries and professions that could benefit. The biggest obstacles: employees can feel like they're being micromanaged if they don't understand why time tracking is so vital.
My favorite tracking time software systems are Harvest, RescueTime and Teamwork. Most time tracking apps allow you to use tags or categories for built-in reporting, or export to a spreadsheet. Each month, look critically at your biggest time expenditures are being spent in areas that matter most to your company's goals.
At the end of the day, time tracking software is a tool for improving efficiency and profitability. I've often discovered huge time-wasters in my own weekly routines that would've completely fallen through the cracks without this discipline. For any companies that bid jobs on a fixed-cost basis, time tracking is a literally a make/break for the company's profitability.