As small business ourselves, we know how precious and limited time is. And I also know that one of the greatest traps for a business owner is to believe you are buying freedom by running your own business, but then end up becoming a slave to the business, working longer hours than when you had a corporate job.
But it does not have to be this way. The secret is a ruthless focus on productivity. Here are our top six productivity hacks:
1. Leverage your technology
Most businesses have moved from paper to technology to manage their schedules and priorities, but we still see many small business owners using paper tools to organize themselves. They may feel that they have more control and flexibility with paper, but the truth is that technology is far better at managing our time than paper. Tools like MS Outlook and Gmail have calendars and task lists built in, and are designed to help you to stay organized at your desk or on the run. Your schedules can sync to your phone, meaning that you are always on time and in control.
2. Use one organizing tool
If you do use technology to organize yourself, make sure you centralize all of your work into one organizing tool. I believe that your schedule and task list should operate together, as both types of work require your time to get done. Again, MS Outlook and Google calendar can show your tasks alongside your calendar to give you a more holistic view of your workflow.
3. Manage your inbox
Your email inbox is a workspace, not a storage space. Don’t use your inbox as a filing system, and try to clear your inbox at regular intervals. If you have a messy inbox, actions may slip through the cracks, and possible sales, opportunities or commitments may get forgotten. I teach clients to get their inbox to zero weekly, which gives them much more control and clarity when dealing with their email.
4. Plan your week
Making time to plan is a critical discipline in small business, yet many of us feel too busy to plan. We think planning is time ‘out of action’. But if we don’t plan our time and priorities effectively, we end up working on the wrong stuff, working reactively and often having to do rework as mistakes are made. Build a weekly planning routine of 30-45 minutes to review last week, organize next week, anticipate what is coming up in the weeks ahead, and realign what you are working on with your goals and objectives.
5. Reduce the noise
In the email age, we are constantly being distracted by incoming messages, interruptions and what I call ‘noise’. When the noise levels build up, it makes it hard to focus on what is important. So, turn off your email alerts, set up email rules to delete or file non-critical emails, and try to protect some ‘focus’ time in your week for thinking and concentrating.
6. Meet with purpose
Much of our work gets done in meetings, where we collaborate and work with others. But if those meetings do not have a clear purpose, they can be a huge drain on the time in our week. So be ruthless with the meetings you accept. Be clear about the outcomes to be achieved, and what you need to contribute or get out of the meeting. Lastly, try scheduling shorter meetings for greater productivity. One hour is our default mindset around meeting durations, but most meetings could take 30 minutes and achieve just as much.