Every small business owner needs to make the best use of their time. There is always far too much to do and the pressure to respond immediately to the demands of others just keeps increasing. There doesn’t seem to be any respite. I can certainly relate to this scenario and one way to deal with it is to prioritise your tasks and eliminate unnecessary interruptions.
If you deal with the most important tasks every day, you will soon accept that everything else will just have to wait. This worked for me until there were so many important tasks on my to-do list, I couldn’t clear them every day.
If you are in this situation, you have to look more closely at what you are doing and ask yourself “How much time am I wasting?”
You can be wasting time by doing the wrong tasks or by continually switching between tasks or by allowing interruptions to disrupt your schedule. Right now, you probably feel you are working flat-out, but the reality is that you can do more. It’s just a matter of knowing how to tap into greater productivity.
The first element to check is whether or not you are working all the time you are at work. You can easily verify this for yourself by keeping a simple activity log. Build your log by recording at 15 minute intervals how you have spent the previous 15 minutes. Use this log to build up an accurate picture of how you spend your time. Be honest with yourself, there is no value in generating misleading data.
Does your activity log suggest you are working to maximum effect or are there periods when you are simply being busy and not actually achieving something worthwhile?
There are several ways to improve your productivity, all of which have worked for me. Try them and see if they will help you too.
- Plan your time carefully. Don’t use valuable selling time or client meeting time for internal administration meetings or similar activities.
- Always carry things to do for when you encounter a period of dead time. If you regularly visit clients, suppliers and prospects the chances are you will arrive early. Being late for any meeting damages your reputation – nobody wants to delay the start of a meeting because you couldn’t arrive on time. You will, therefore, most likely plan your travel time with some slack to cover traffic jams or cancelled public transport. Have something to do when you get to meeting locations too early, even if it just catching up on your reading materials.
- If travelling by public transport, ensure you have something to do. You might be unable to work on commercially confidential activities, but there will always be something you can do to maximise your travel time. Thinking, brainstorming and capturing these thoughts and ideas is great for travel time. Simply take something you can use to capture your thoughts. A pen and paper or some suitable technology is all you need.
- If you commute to an office by car, miss all the jams by getting to your office earlier and finishing later. Use the car audio system to listen to educational material while you drive. Try to keep your travel time productive.
- Focus on the Pareto Principle and avoid being a perfectionist. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. In business, many tasks need not be 100% completed. Save significant time by completing tasks to the “good enough” level. By investing 20% of your effort into each of five separate tasks you can bring each of them to the 80% complete stage in the time it will take to complete the first one perfectly. What’s more, few people will even realise these tasks are only 80% complete. Of course, for some businesses (such as those undertaking safety critical tasks) this couldn’t be applied. For these businesses, every task must be fully completed to the highest possible standard.
- Schedule time for relaxation and to be with your family. The five points above will help you to get the most out of your working and travelling times, rather than frittering some of that time away. Now schedule some “downtime” where you get away from the pressures of your work and allow you time to recharge your batteries. These periods will help keep your stress levels under control and make you more efficient when you get back to work.
- Avoid being distracted by minor, relatively unimportant issues and keep your focus on the things that matter.
If you apply these ideas and can convert 10% of your working day from low (or no) productivity to high productivity, you will easily find an extra 5 hours of productive time each week. That’s 250 hours in a year! How much more could you achieve with an extra month each year?
- Begin every day by prioritizing your to-do list. Ensure you work only on your highest priority tasks.
- Keep an activity log and identify where your productivity drops off. Identify how you could rectify this.
- Apply each of the 7 tips for improving your productivity and monitor your progress through your activity logs. If any tip doesn’t work for you, skip it and focus on the others.