You’d have to look far and wide to find a small business owner who didn’t wish there were a few extra hours in each day. Whether your business is established or you’re just about to start a small business, sometimes it can seem like the to-do list is only ever getting longer, even when you’re completing tasks daily. But what might make the difference is taking some steps to kick your productivity into high gear with some of these productivity tips.
When we have thousands of distractions surrounding us at any time, it can be hard to focus and work effectively, but if you want your business to succeed, you know you’ve got to buckle down.
To help you do exactly that we dug up the best tips and hacks for increasing or sustaining productivity that we could find.
If you’re ready to increase your productivity, keep reading below.
What Is Productivity and How Should You Measure It?
You want to make sure that your definition of “productive” is something that is actually physically possible for you to accomplish. If you set an unattainable goal, you’re also setting yourself up to fail. For example, setting the goal to finish all of your small business taxes in one day may be unattainable, while setting the goal to finish one or two parts of those taxes is doable.
Decide what productivity means to you and the level of productivity necessary to run, or start, your business before trying the tips and hacks we explain below.
The productivity tips below are meant to help you use your time more efficiently and structure your days in a way to allows you to cross things off that list of yours, without getting burnt out or sucking the fun out of running your business.
12 Proven Productivity Tips and Hacks
These productivity tips range from small adjustments to larger changes in the way you do things for your business. Keep in mind that increasing productivity isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, so you may have to do some trial and error before you find what works best for you and your work style.
A number of these actions can be aided with the use of business apps that might help you manage your time or your to-do list, we’ll point those out along the way.
1. Never Check Email First Thing in the Morning
Who doesn’t grab their phone first thing when they wake up? It’s tempting to spend the first hour or so after you wake up leisurely replying to emails and checking in on things, but that might not be the best use of your time.
It might be a hard habit to break but instead, try and devote the first hour of your day to a high-priority task that requires uninterrupted focus—one that, when you finish, you’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something. This will help set the tone for the rest of the day too to get you in the mindset of getting work done.
This tip made the list because so many productivity experts endorse the idea. Personal development trainer Sid Savara offers seven reasons not to check email first thing.
A former design ethicist at Google, Tristan Harris, also recommends not looking at your phone first thing. He writes in his article “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist,” that waking up to look immediately at your phone can throw your morning routine totally of course.
2. Limit Mobile Notifications
This one goes hand in hand with the tip above. Picking up your phone is an easy distraction that can lead to minutes if not hours of wasted time, unless of course, you’re using it to promote your business on social media. Turning the notifications off for those particularly tempting apps can aid in keeping you on task once you’re working on something.
Most devices have a “do not disturb” mode you can turn on to stop notifications from coming through until you turn it off. Consider utilizing these tools built right into your device to help you increase productivity.
Bonus: If you find yourself distracted by personal social media on your desktop, you can also block websites from your view with certain extensions for your web browser as well.
3. Do Less, But Do It More Strategically
There’s a principle that says 80% of your results come from 20% of your work. It was established by Vilfredo Pareto, an economist, who noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people. He started noticing the same thing in other parts of his life as well, and established the principle.
This applies to the work you do for your business as well. If you choose the right things to focus on, then 80% of the results you get could come from just 20% of the solid work you’re doing. Focusing on that most important 20% can go a long way in getting you the results you want.
To manage and prioritize all of the tasks on your list, you can use an app or a web-based platform. Todoist is one of the most popular apps in managing these lists and it can even integrate with your Google calendar.
4. Schedule Less Time Than Necessary
When it comes to things like travel, you want to make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time, and overbudget. But for tasks for your business, it can sometimes be helpful to give yourself less time than you think you’ll need. That’s thanks to Parkinson’s Law that says that work will expand to fit the time you’ve made available for it.
Simply, if you schedule an hour for something, you’re more likely to fill that entire hour, even if you don’t necessarily need the full hour to complete your work.
Giving yourself less time, on the other hand, will force you to get the work done in that time, so you can move on to the next task more quickly.
5. Schedule Your Unscheduled Time
Back-to-back meetings and deadlines might sound efficient, but you need buffer time to recharge your brain and deal with phone calls, emergencies and the unforeseen. Aim to leave one-third of your day unscheduled. You’ll find this is the time of the day where you actually get the most done.
It can help you finish up tasks necessary for small business management and keep things running smoothly.
6. Procrastinate Productively
Unless you’ve unlocked some secret most other people haven’t, you probably find yourself procrastinating at least a little throughout the day…or a lot.
Procrastination isn’t all bad though, you can use that time to tidy up, finish some of the smaller tasks on your to-do list (hello 80%) or even take a quick break.
Sometimes going for a short walk or completing a small task like tidying up can go a long way in reinvigorating your productivity. You can also use this time to think about why you’re putting off the task. Some people (looking at you, perfectionists of the world) will try and put off tasks because they’d rather not do it instead of doing it poorly. Other people simply love the thrill of finish a task just in time. Either way, it’s not the most effective way to get things done, so try a break your procrastination habit by procrastinating productively.
7. Crowdsource and Brainstorm it
If you start stalling on something you normally do on your own consider asking someone to help you out. This can be as simple as asking one of your employees to talk through an idea with you, crowdsourcing ideas from customers, or even a bit more high level, like bringing in a freelancer or a consultant.
Sometimes talking through ideas with someone else or asking for another person’s perspective on something can go a long way in getting the ball rolling on a task.
8. Gamify it
Set a timer and try to finish a task in 10 or 20 minutes. Be sure that whatever task it is, it can be properly completed in this time period though, or a portion of it can be at least.
This can be especially helpful for those tasks you find monotonous or just have to get through. Setting a timer can be helpful because it gives you a definite end time, and an incentive to work incredibly productively for a short spurt, instead of somewhat productively for an undetermined amount of time.
9. Limit Decision Making
Decision making is hard work, there’s even a name for it, “decision fatigue,” and it has the power to zap the productivity right out of you.
Every decision you make during the day uses brainpower, which is one reason we feel more tired as the day progresses. So it’s key that you save energy for important decisions by routinizing small ones, like what you wear. There’s a reason Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck all the time, it limited one of the decisions he had to make, so he could focus on his business.
10. Change Your Surroundings
If you’re stalled, try heading to the local coffee shop. According to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research, the amount of noise in a coffeehouse is just enough to stimulate creativity.
Changing up your surroundings and heading somewhere with a little bit more going on could energize your efforts and get you back on track if you’re feeling stuck. Plus a cup of caffeine probably could help you pick up the pace too.
11. Check Out Some Cute Animal Photos
Now you have an actual excuse to spend time while working looking at cute baby animals. A Japanese study found looking at pictures of cute baby animals for a few minutes could improve subjects’ focus and concentration.
While we don’t recommend spending a ton of time doing this one, it can’t hurt to little break to look at some puppies or kittens.
12. Ignore Everything We Just Recommended
Just kidding! But you do know what works best for you. Recognize your own rhythm, and work with it as best you can. We’re all different, and the better you can get to know your work style, the more likely you’ll be able to identify the tips for productivity that really make a difference, and establish a great work-life balance.
Don’t try to do all of these immediately and at once. Try changing or adding just one of these productivity tips and hacks at first to try and make your days more efficient. The point isn’t to simply change your habits or how to you run your small business, just to help you find what works for you.
Additionally, not all of these will work for every business owner. So try them out, see what you like and what you don’t, and check “find ways to be more productive” off your to-do list!
- SidSavara.com. “7 Reasons You Should Never Check Email First Thing in the Morning“
- Forbes.com. “Steve Jobs Always Dressed Exactly the Same. Here’s Who Else Does“
- JSTOR.org. “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition“
- PopSci.com. “Experiment: Look at Pictures of Cute Baby Animal to Improve Your Concentration“