Productivity hacks for small business owners
By Deena Anreise
If you’ve built your small to midsized business into something substantial, you’re likely still running it as a…small business. That’s both good and bad.
At this year's SALT New York conference, Jean Hynes, the CEO of Wellington Management, took to the stage to discuss the role of active management in today's investment environment. Hynes succeeded Brendan Swords as the CEO of Wellington at the end of June after nearly 30 years at the firm. Wellington is one of the Read More
It’s good in that you are preserving your personal touch. You probably have many customers who trust you personally, and who like that you still make 90% of the decisions.
Here’s the bad….
If you are still operating like a small business in the sense that you are still touching nearly everything that needs to get done, you are both limiting your growth and robbing yourself of a well-deserved work life balance.
Now, it’s time to reward yourself and your stakeholders by taking things to the next level with the following productivity hacks and time management tips to help set you apart from the rest of the pack and increase your business growth.
#1 BUILD AND DOCUMENT YOUR SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
Only a few activities will cause you more frustration in business than repeatedly spending your valuable time (and, by extension, money) undertaking a task or project that hasn’t been properly documented. Yes, you may know what you’re doing 9 times out of 10, but what happens when your business grows a bit more and you seek to delegate that task or project…? Where is that document or image you need to attach every time? Where is that canned email response you always cut and paste? Where do you keep track of your prospecting outreach, automated social media posts, incoming vendor emails, contact info for potential clients and current clients, supply lists and ordering information…?
Obviously, it’s crucial to have familiarity with your business systems and processes in order to identify your needs, plan strategically for the long term, and not lose your mind. Knowing your systems and processes intimately will give you a much needed sense of control, increase your productivity, and give you a heightened feeling of accomplishment. These psychological aspects of developing a system (or process) cannot be overstated.
They dramatically reduce stress. But more importantly, knowing and documenting those systems and processes is really where the money is at. If you don’t already have systems in place that you’ve mastered, that’s okay. You can put a basic system or process in place for any task or project.
If you already have systems in place, all the better! And if you’ve written a training manual or internal document that details a process, you are truly a rock star!
#2 DEVELOP YOUR GROWTH MINDSET
The growth mindset was discovered by psychologist and Stanford professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D. who defines mindset as a self-perception (I am a great speaker; I am a bad dancer) that is either “fixed” or focused on “growth.”
Fixed mindsets perceive failure as inevitable, since they believe being good at something is defined by an inherent trait or ability. Essentially, they think that nothing can be effectively trained for or learned if someone isn’t predisposed to the skill or knowledge. This mindset is naturally limiting, and arguably disastrous.
Conversely, those with a growth mindset “believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” writes Carol. In this way, language is huge when it comes to growth. On a personal (internal) level, what we tell ourselves has a defining impact on our performance and success.
Which is why the emerging field of positive psychology has become invested in increasing people’s productivity through the use of language motivators. For instance, saying to yourself “I have to” is far less motivating than saying “I get to.”
It’s important to realize that fixed mindsets damage our ability to acquire new skills, and are scientifically proven to negatively affect our ability to succeed at personal relationships, professional success, and many other dimensions of life. In light of this, why would you ever embrace any mindset other than a growth mindset?
Developing a growth mindset is a surefire way to double your productivity and work toward sustainable business growth.
#3 BECOME AN EMAIL BATCHER
Even with all the alerts, pings, instant messaging apps, phone calls, texts, social media exchanges, and meetings, email inbox issues are still considered one of the most challenging of all business-related distractions.
So, it’s no surprise that email is hurting productivity in the workplace.
According to Jocelyn Glei, workers are:
- Checking their email about 11 times an hour
- Processing 122 messages a day
- Spending about 28 percent of their work week on email
In Glei’s mind, our addiction to our email inbox really comes down to our desire to complete short tasks that will give us a completion-induced dopamine hit. This desire for a feel good reward pre-disposes us to repeat behaviors that are, at their very root, counterproductive.
The productivity hacks solution: understand your habit type.
Glei has found that there are two types of email openers, Reactors and Batchers. Reactors constantly move back-and-forth between emails and other tasks all day long. They are the switchers; the multitaskers (more on multitasking below). Batchers, on the other hand, deliberately limit the amount of daily time they spend checking emails.
Guess which type is better?
With all the research proving that multitasking is for dummies, it’s really no surprise that the people who check their emails in batches — Batchers — are significantly more productive, happy, and less stressed than their more reactive counterparts, the ill-fated Reactors.
Batchers are the true champions of email best practices and productivity in the workplace.
#4 AVOID MULTITASKING TO INCREASE YOUR FOCUS
When multitasking, mental sharpness is measurably reduced.
Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King’s College London University, conducted 80 clinical trials that monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day. Dr. Wilson found the IQ of those who tried to multitask fell by 10 points, which is equal to missing a whole night’s sleep and more than double the 4 point fall seen after smoking marijuana.
“The research suggests that we are in danger of being caught up in a 24-hour ‘always on’ society,”
David Smith, Head of Customer Support Americas at Hewlett Packard
Research and common sense suggest that multitasking leads to lost productivity and concentration, which increases exponentially in accordance with the complexity of the task involved. All of this impacts your business…and gives your competitors a leg up, which is why it’s imperative to train your focus solely on top business priorities. Having your priorities straight will increase your productivity and give you a competitive advantage.
Many productivity hacks advocate for literally writing down your top 3 “must accomplish” tasks every day. By doing this, you will streamline your attention and reduce the temptation for distraction. When you have your 3 prioritized tasks, go a step further and schedule blocks of time to accomplish those tasks. Even better, write down and prepare yourself for those 3 tasks the night before:
“A major benefit of preparing your daily list the night before is that this exercise lets you sleep more soundly. Once you have written down everything you have to do on your list, it clears your mind and enables you to sleep deeply. This will help you increase productivity throughout the next work day.”
Brian Tracy, Chairman and CEO at Brian Tracy International
What happens when you can’t help but get distracted by ringing phones, urgent instant messages, and employees asking for your help? This is one of the most important productivity hacks …. Hire a virtual assistant (more on hiring a virtual administrative assistant below) to keep everyone and everything at bay while they also take care of your low priority tasks so you can focus your attention only on what will add value to your position and your business.
Our brains just aren’t awesome at multitasking.
#5 MAKE MEETINGS MATTER
We all spend so much time in meetings that it’s pretty much an epidemic in business.
If you’re a manager, chances are you spend upwards of 35% of your time in meetings. If you’re in the C-suite, you’re spending 50% or more of your time in meetings. Yet…this time is nothing but lost opportunity unless you can maximize the productivity and output of each meeting.
How can you keep meetings productive and on track?
Make sure you have a plan for the meeting. This is key. Once you have your plan, send it out as an agenda to all attendees in either a calendar invite or an email. This will keep you focused, which will help keep everyone else focused, too. In addition, before the meeting begins, ask everyone to put their phones in airplane mode to minimize distractions. As you sum up the meeting, provide crystal clear next steps so everyone involved will know who is supposed to do what. A good rule of thumb is to spend half the meeting presenting the material and half in discussion.
What’s the ideal meeting length?
Routine meetings should be kept to a half hour, but 15 minutes is typically all that’s needed if you stay focused, minimize distractions during the meeting, and keep all discussion (questions, comments, etc) until the end. If someone tries to derail the meeting by bringing up irrelevant topics or hijacking your agenda, politely rein them in by saying, “Great thoughts, but right now we need to stay on track with the current meeting’s agenda. We can discuss your points at a later time. I’ll connect with you after this meeting to schedule a follow-up meeting.”
A crucial takeaway and one of the most important productivity hacks here is to only take part in a meeting if there is both a straightforward purpose and agenda in addition to clear-cut start and finish times.
A word of advice…
The team at Prialto, a US-based company that employs and manages virtual administrative assistants, uses remote video conferencing tools (Jitsi, Skype, and Zoom) to hold the majority of their meetings with clients, vendors, and each other. These tools are great for giving instructions, asking questions, and responding to issues in real-time. These tools also provide an ideal way to build and nurture relationships by allowing us to telecommute in order to gain that crucial face-to-face time across time zones.
Don’t have remote workers on your team? Not leveraging a virtual administrative assistant to handle your ongoing, repeatable tasks? No problem.
You can build relationships with prospective and current clients as well as vendors and partners by using video conferencing software to meet with them.
#6 OPTIMIZE YOUR HEALTH
You’ve heard this before, so I won’t go on and on about the importance of taking regular 15 minute breaks throughout your workday, getting consistent exercise, eating well (limit sugar and processed foods, at minimum), drink plenty of water, and shoot for a full night’s sleep as the norm.
#7 DELEGATE AND OUTSOURCE
Outsourcing has its pros and cons depending on what is outsourced and the terms you set for your providers on the front end. Some tasks or functions are ideal for outsourcing to other companies or freelancers while some jobs are better kept closer to home. In any case, proper planning and collaboration can help you provide an optimal system that is a mix of outsourced and in-house efforts.
“You’ll know you’re successful when your company can take on the inevitability of forward movement without you.”
Eric Taussig, Prialto CEO and Founder
The takeaway here is to delegate as many of your tasks as possible. When you delegate to your team, you empower them with a sense of ownership that will increase both your productivity and theirs.
Delegating is often a challenge for high performing executives and business founders. They are so used to touching every aspect of their tasks and processes that it can prove very difficult for them to hand over the keys.
But this is a massive handicap for them and their business, since delegating is the best way for executives and founders to maximize their ability to effectively handle multiple demands on their limited time. After all, highly productive professionals are very discerning when it comes to how they spend their energy and time.
The best practice for delegating is to take on only those tasks that no one else but you can do. Everything else should be delegated. So ask yourself: Does this task need to be accomplished? If no, throw out the task. If yes, decide if the task is crucial for you to accomplish or if someone else can own the task.
When you hire a virtual assistant there are numerous cost and time savings to take advantage of that will increase your productivity exponentially, since the best virtual assistant services will make sure your virtual administrative assistant only adds to your business’s success and growth.
You really don’t need to do everything yourself. Hire a virtual assistant to free up your time for the tasks that you — and you alone — can do.
CONCLUSION ON PRODUCTIVITY HACKS AND HELPING YOURSELF
The above productivity hacks and time management tips are huge time savers with the potential to be even bigger moneymakers. The trick is to put them into practice.
Start small by picking one of the productivity hacks or tisp from the above list. Tackle those productivity hacks or tips in a very focused way. After you’ve mastered it, move on to the next productivity hacks or tips and dominate that one, too.
Deena Anreise is the Marketing Manager at Prialto, a Portland-based business that provides managed, dedicated virtual assistants to executives, entrepreneurs, and companies of all sizes.
Prialto’s services are curated and managed from our Headquarters in Portland, Oregon with creative insights from our global staff in Asia and Central America. Our global telecommuting enables talented people in peripheral parts of the world economy to do cool work with dynamic business professionals in amazing places like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.