Productivity tips for small business owners: get more done in less time
21 April 2017
How many times do you find yourself wishing there were more hours in the day? Running your own business often means wearing many different hats, and having what seems like a never-ending list of tasks.
Sometimes pushing on, working long into the evenings or at weekends can seem like the only way to get everything done. The trouble is, regularly working longer hours rarely makes you more productive. It does the opposite – often leaving you feeling frazzled and burnt out. Busy does not equal productive!
So how do we work smarter so we can enjoy the work-life balance many of us strive for?
Over the last few years I’ve tried to educate myself about productivity, reading lots of articles and books on the subject, experimenting with different techniques and finding new ways to get more stuff done. I’d like to share my own blend of techniques and habits with you, that have helped me become more productive:
Reduce decision fatigue
Small daily decisions impact your mental energy for making more important choices throughout the day. To beat feeling drained before the day’s barely begun, plan routine decisions such as what you’ll eat for breakfast or what you’re going to wear, the night before.
You could simplify things further and adopt a self-imposed work ‘uniform’ like many successful leaders. During his time as president, Barack Obama pared down decisions by wearing either grey or blue suits only and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wears his signature grey t-shirt and blue jeans outfit every day so he can focus on more important decisions.
Meditation isn’t simply for calming and relaxing the mind – it can help increase productivity, improve focus and unlock creativity too. Set yourself up for the day ahead – slowing down to meditate for just a few minutes each day can have a big impact. I love Headspace – it’s my go-to app for convenient, bite-size guided meditation and mindfulness.
Don’t let other people’s priorities hijack your focus. Easier said than done! But did you know for every distraction it can take roughly 20 minutes to get back into the flow of what you were doing.
Email, social media, push notifications – they’re all major culprits. Try limiting how often you check your inbox/social feed (except if it’s a critical part of your job of course). If you can resist temptation, work on your first task of the day before opening up your email client, and allot 2–3 specific times of day for email.
Do your most important thing first
We tend to be more focused and have greater energy in the mornings (even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it). Take advantage of this! I try to schedule my most challenging and demanding work early in the day, and give it my full attention, no distractions. The sense of accomplishment will provide momentum and set a positive tone for the day ahead.
Work in blocks of 90 minutes
Work with your body’s natural ultradian rhythm – the 90 minute cycle of high energy to low energy that we experience throughout the day. I focus on one task at a time for 90 minutes and at the end of the 90 minutes I stop to recharge…
Take regular breaks
Although it might feel counterproductive, taking time to restore and re-energise throughout the day is equally important for productivity as time spent focusing on work. Your brain can only concentrate for so long before needing a break.
After experimenting, I’ve found a hybrid of the Pomodoro Technique combined with working in blocks of 90 minutes works well for me. I take a short break (no more than 5 minutes) every 25 minutes or so and then an extended break (20–30 minutes) at the end of the 90 minute stretch. You often find some of the best ideas happen when you rest.
Move, exercise and drink plenty of water
If you sit at a desk for most of the day, remember to regularly get up, move around and stretch. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain helping you stay alert and focused. When you work from home, you won’t have a commute so it’s even more essential to do some moderate physical activity and to get outside. Too many back-to-back meetings scheduled? Try a walking meeting instead.
Also, make sure you stay hydrated to help you think more clearly and quickly. For bonus points, I place my glass of water across the other side of the room to force myself to move every time I take a sip.
Have a change of scene
Simply switching up where you work once in a while can fuel creativity and make you more productive. If you usually work from home, try working from a coffee shop or a co-working space instead. See whether the background buzz helps your output and whether or not you find the concentration of your fellow co-workers contagious.
Outsource work outside of your core strengths
You don’t have to do everything yourself. If you’re spending hours and hours working on business tasks that aren’t really your thing, whether it’s doing your accounts or designing your website, then outsource to specialists (hint :-) !). Don’t fool yourself into thinking DIY cuts costs. It’s much more efficient to spend your time focusing on your areas of expertise.
Improve your work environment
Create a comfortable workspace, ideally a dedicated area with plenty of natural light. The addition of one or two green plants will help too – bringing far more benefits than just brightening the place up. And don’t let paperwork pile up – staying organised will save you wasting time searching for something later. To combat feeling overwhelmed build a daily/weekly routine of decluttering, tidying/filing and cleaning, and try to maintain it.
Write down tomorrow’s list of priorities the night before
Planning and prioritising tomorrow’s tasks will enable you to hit the ground running in the morning. At the end of each working day, think about your broader goals and identify the next steps towards achieving them. Then list, in order of priority, what you need to get done the following day.
To keep it manageable I limit my list to 3–5 items, starting each one with an action word (like write, call etc.) and being specific. Then the list is there the next day, ready and waiting for me to work my way through it, tackling each item one at a time.
So there you have it, my favourite tips for improving productivity. I won’t pretend I’ve got my productivity nailed – it’s work-in-progress. There are still days when my output takes a nose-dive. And times when I work all the hours.
What I have learnt though, is that working excessively long hours is not sustainable – it might work short-term but not long-term. And to do your best work you need time to recharge, both during the working day and outside of it, taking time off to re-energise.
The great thing if you run your own business is that you have the flexibility to decide how you work and to implement improvements. Even simple changes can make a big difference. Hopefully you’ve found some fresh ideas here that you feel inspired to try.
If you’re struggling with your website or branding, I’d love to help. Free up your time to do what you do best and drive your business forwards. Get in touch today.