As a small business owner, you no longer have the luxury of a pre-determined workday. You set your own hours, you work wherever you want, and ultimately, you are in total control of your own success.
Liberty, however, comes at a price.
The sheer variety of roles and responsibilities you are expected to take on as an entrepreneur can easily become overwhelming; not only are you doing your actual work for the client, you are simultaneously juggling the roles of accountant, marketer, HR (if you have employees), and whatever else is needed simply to maintain your business.
As your business grows and your workload increases, it becomes more and more important to evaluate how you’re using your time.
Make the most effective use of your time and you will not only be able to cut back on total working hours, but you will also see marked increases in productivity and, by extension, revenue.
The following productivity hacks will help you do so!
1. Set an MIT (Most Important Task) Every Day
Choose one important task – a task that, once completed, will be of significant benefit to your business – and complete it first thing in the morning (ok, maybe not as soon as you wake up, you can still drink your coffee first, but as soon as you sit down at your desk to begin work).
The task should take no longer than 3-4 hours to complete, and you should complete it in its entirety before doing anything else (including checking emails, or even thinking about other work).
This popular productivity hack concept, while incredibly simple in its execution, boasts extraordinary psychological benefits; nothing beats the feeling of having completed something of vital importance before the day is even half over!
Note: your MIT should be determined prior to the day you are working on it. Plan it out the previous evening (or, if you prefer, plan all of your MITs for the week, ahead of time).
2. Learn to Delegate Effectively
The second productivity hack is all about delegation. Effective delegation is an incredibly useful tool and is absolutely vital if you plan on scaling up your business.
While hiring permanent employees is a good option for very established businesses, hiring freelancers is significantly more cost-effective (and the results can be just as good!).
In essence, you want to hire independent contractors to take care of the aspects of the business you don’t have the time or expertise to handle yourself.
3. Apply the 80/20 Principle
Evaluate your business through the lens of the 80/20 principle. This will put into perspective where most of your revenue is coming from, and where most of your time is being spent. This knowledge will allow you to trim the fat, so to speak.
The 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, was discovered by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto when he noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
This can be applied to business, where it can generally be seen that 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the clients.
Take a look at your own business; if you see that you have an abundance of small clients that take up a lot of time without producing much revenue, do not be afraid to cut them loose.
The last thing you want is to hang on to high-maintenance clients who don’t bring in much money.
4. Make Use of Productivity Apps
Productivity apps are a great way to make ordinary tasks easier, quicker, and more enjoyable. These apps range from multi-purpose, generalized task managers (such as OmniFocus), to apps with more specialized functions (such as LucyPhone, an app that makes customer service calls less of a hassle through the way it handles call holding.)
Productivity apps exist in a wide range of niches; it is very likely that an app exists that caters to the specific needs of your business.
By using apps to take care of arbitrary, day-to-day tasks, you will free up a significant amount of time. We compiled a list of 25 apps that will help you along the way!
5. Check E-mail Less Frequently
Compulsive e-mail checking is a widespread affliction among the modern workforce. The result of this is an increase in stress levels.
A study done by the University of British Columbia has revealed that by limiting the number of times that e-mail is checked (in the study, participants were limited to checking only 3 times a day), daily stress levels were significantly reduced.
Set aside specific times each day for dealing with e-mails, and resist the urge to check your inbox every few minutes. If you’re working in a team, you can also use tools such as Slack, which will reduce the number of e-mails you send.
Not only will this productivity hack help you reduce stress, but you will also find it easier to maintain a high level of focus on your current task, which ties into the next point…
6. Avoid Multi-Tasking – Complete One Task at a Time
Your brain isn’t designed to rapidly switch from one task to another.
Pick one task to work on, and allow yourself a period of uninterrupted focus with which to complete it. Many people are in the habit of working for 10-20 minutes and then taking a short break to browse through social media or check their e-mail.
Short breaks of a few minutes are actually detrimental to overall productivity. To optimize results, it is best to work for a longer period of time (60-90 minutes), and take a slightly longer break (10-15 minutes) in between work blocks; this is a great way to maximize productivity, as it follows your brains natural cycles.
7. Follow your Brain’s Natural Cycles
You are probably aware that your brain cycles through various states when you are asleep (REM, deep sleep, and light sleep).
What you may not be aware of, however, is that your brain also functions in a cyclical manner during your waking hours.
This ultradian rhythm is broken up into periods of high alertness, followed by periods of reduced alertness. Generally speaking, the highly focused period lasts between 90-120 minutes (90 minutes being the most common), with about 20 minutes of downtime.
To make use of this, divide your workday up into 90-minute working periods, followed by 20-minute breaks. In this manner, you maximize your output during your alert cycle, and the intermittent breaks are actually hugely beneficial to your overall productivity.
8. Move Everything to the Cloud
The cloud is an attractive platform; it’s paperless, it’s flexible, and updates in real-time. A multitude of users can simultaneously work on a single project, and any data can be accessed from any platform (in any location).
Moving to the cloud goes beyond simple convenience; it’s also safer. Even if you lose every single computer, phone, and tablet in your office through some freak occurrence, and you won’t lose a single byte of data.
9. Don’t Answer Phones – Use Voicemail!
We mentioned earlier that avoiding distractions (in the form of e-mail and social media) was a key component of sustaining focus for maximum productivity. This also applies to phone calls.
During the majority of your working hours, do not allow your phone to ring – set it to go straight to voicemail.
As with e-mail, set aside specific times each day when you will go through the voicemails; this will allow you that uninterrupted period of time when you can focus on work and avoid unnecessary distractions.
10. Wake up Early (Really Early!)
It is not difficult to find proponents of early rising among the successful elite. Indeed, waking up early is a great way to get a boost not only to productivity, but also to creativity, mood, and health.
When you wake up at 5 am, you have a significant block of time with which to sort out anything that needs to be sorted out. By the time most people are getting into the office, you will not only have completed your MIT, but you will also have worked out, had a great breakfast, and caught up on some e-mails.
Needless to say, this gives you a huge head start for the day.