Here’s the thing about productivity: it's like a game of cat and mouse. You spend so much time pursuing the finesse of productiveness, but it’s a series of near misses and persistent escapes, and just when you’ve gained some ground and look back at all you have achieved, you discover dancing cats on TikTok or start dreading the admin work you have to do and you’re back to the drawing board.
Whether you’re a new establishment or have been running a business for years, outcomes are directly influenced by the magnitude of one’s productivity. Like a lock and key; one cannot function properly without the other. Think about it. We’d all be in a pretty sticky situation without productivity because then everyone’s customers would be down their throats, and we’d all be working nights and eating lunch at our desks. That’s why we all seek to uncover how we can be our most productive selves. Luckily, we’ve learned a few things over the years, so get out a notepad and take some notes.
Vast empty spaces in your calendar are easily mistaken for free time, or time that you’ll simply figure out what to do with “in the moment”. The trouble with this is that you become reactive rather than proactive with your to-do list.
It’s like waiting for a fire to start and then fretting to find the hose, rather than simply installing smoke detectors beforehand. When this happens, your time is no longer your own and you’ll end up falling behind on doing work that makes a big impact for your business.
Thankfully, you can reclaim your calendar and your time by learning to love scheduling (quite literally). Book out some time each morning and label it “Day planning” where you get your daily to-do list ready and add any events needed to your calendar. Follow these simple steps to get into the groove of tracking your time:
- Find a calendar app that you like. Make sure it can sync across all your relevant devices, so you can access your calendar anywhere, anytime. If you’re into using the web, we recommend using Google Calendar.
- Schedule your personal life and ‘non-negotiable’ activities by blocking out portions of your day. For example, a non-negotiable activity would be your sleep. The hours in which you sleep can vary, but sleeping in general is not something that can be completely eliminated from your daily routine - so pencil it in. Make sure you set aside time for meals, exercise (if that’s your jam), family and partner time and self-care activities. This might sound simple, but it gives you an excellent idea of what time you have to play with throughout your day.
- Spend some time organising your current work day and work days ahead. Reflect on how you feel on a normal work day. Are you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the mornings? Or does it really hit you on your 15th coffee? Use this knowledge to your advantage and schedule your work day around this. For example; if you know that you are your most productive self between 9 and 11am, schedule your most important meetings or decisions for around this time. This way you utilise your energy well, and minimize distractions.
- Critique the schedule as you go. Once you action the schedule, pay attention to how well it suits your work day and the demand on you. Don’t feel bad about having to adjust your schedule or push out a task (as long as it’s not a task with a due date or time) as this let’s you nail a schedule that works for you and your personality.
Streamline your business like a professional
Most business owners face a mountain of uninteresting and monotonous tasks; climbing towards that same summit day after day. You may not realise just how much time these tasks soak up and alot of them do not require your hand for completion. Try to automate everything you can; it’ll only simplify your life further and free you up for the more important things. Try automating the scheduling of meetings, tracking finances and invoicing your client base.
For general automation, an excellent tool we recommend is IFTTT. Juicer.io has an excellent post on some really useful IFTTT recipes for small businesses which we recommend reading.
Some more specific automation could come from using an accounting tool like Xero which covers all bases. It tracks accounts receivable, invoicing and payslips, and manages your taxes and purchase orders. To do your own research, visit the official Xero website.
Scientific theory has proven productivity improvements
If you like the science behind productivity hacks, we’d recommend colour coding your calendar. Colour coding is a visual aid that assists with memory recall and segregation of tasks at a neural level, and prevents all those scheduled items from morphing into a smeared technicolour mess. Try to differentiate between personal engagements, work related jobs and reminders such as Grandma’s birthday.
On a similar train of thought, there is evidence to suggest that our brains take over 20 minutes to refocus on a task once we have been disrupted - which is terribly unproductive. Rather than switching from task to task, try batching your work in bundles to achieve maximise uptime on concentration. You’re welcome. Read more about becoming a pro-scheduler.
It pays to know your team, quite literally. Understand each employee's strengths and weaknesses and use them to your advantage by delegating the right tasks to the right people. While you might find delegating easy, ensure that everyone is working in sync with one another and know what their exact responsibilities are. This will ensure there is no duplication of tasks - a massive time sink.
Keeping those lines of communication open is just as critical. Minimise internal email use, as this just becomes a cluttered inbox that nobody reads. Consider utilising a tool to manage the conversations between staff, project teams and management - like Slack. Slack is a sleek, fast and simplistic communication program used for sending instant messages within your customer. The message history is readable and searchable, and you can share files, create channels about specific topics (like water-cooler-chat) and organise video calls if needed.
Outsourcing is your friend
You can’t be everything your business needs. There will come a time or project where you need the right tools for the job, and it just so happens that someone else can provide them. Seriously consider outsourcing applicable work like design, marketing and more to freelancers operating outside your business. Don’t know where to start? Try a platform like Fiverr or Upwork. Both of these platforms are filled with freelancers that specialise in specific subjects. You’re guaranteed to find a casual employee with great skill this way.
Breaks are good, not bad
It might feel counterintuitive to take a break when you are trying to boost productivity. So, in an effort to remain as laser focused as possible, you chain yourself to your work desk and nibble on your sandwich without peeling your eyes away from the screen. This will do more harm than good. Recent statistics indicate that while many employees worry about the judgment they will receive from management, productivity actually plummets if a break is sacrificed during the work day.
Encouraging your employees to take their well-earned breaks will not only make them feel more spritely and productive, it will also increase their general happiness while at work. As if this wasn’t reason enough, putting your feet up in the break room will also:
- Improve mental well-being. The ability to recharge offers a sanctuary from stress, and hence boosts overall mood
- Amplifies creativity. You’ll find employees viewing projects with a brand new outlook and be more analytic after snack-o-clock
- Upskilling. You’ll find that while your employees are on their breaks, they’ll look at resources to help them be better at their job.
- Avoiding ‘burnout’. This is the place where focus is drowned out by the noise of distraction, you want to avoid this place at all costs
Bonus: time management techniques are the new cool
The Pomodoro technique is essentially thinking in tomatoes and not hours. It may seem ridiculous, like how could thinking in tomatoes possibly improve your time management skills? But the honest truth is, millions of people swear by this time management technique.
Pomodoro is Italian for tomato 🍅
The basics of this technique consists of splitting your work into short bursts. Simply work hard for 25 minutes on a specific task, and then take a 5 minute break. For every 4 breaks (or 4 tomatoes) take a 15-30 minute break.
The idea is that you’ll stay more focused on the task at hand which ultimately over the course of a few hours will result in the task taking up a shorter amount of time as opposed to hacking away at it for long periods of time and slowly losing focus, which results in a reduction of quality work.
We’re quite proud of the graph we constructed below:
There are a lot more benefits to doing work in these short intervals, here are just a few:
- Break down complex projects
- If a task requires more than four pomodoros then it probably needs to be broken down into smaller subtasks. This helps ensure you’re making meaningful progress on your projects.
- Small tasks go together
- Queue the euphoria of completing a bunch of tasks all in one tomato. Imagine how good you’ll feel to visibly see that to-do count go down.
- Once you start a pomodoro, it must finish
- The whole idea of the timer is to stay focused on the task at hand. That means ignoring phone calls, emails, any in-bound slack messages. If you need to take a quick urgent phone call, try to limit the call to a minute or two and write the outcome/what’s required on a pen and paper, or a quick to-do and finish the timer.
If you need to finish a pomodoro early - that’s okay. Take the 5 minute break and do what you have to do, but then get back into the zone and start a new pomodoro session.
It’s vital to schedule these pomodoro sessions where you have the least distractions and where your focus is at its peak (like in the morning). The more distractions you have the less you’ll focus.
If you want to read more on how to execute this technique, Todoist (a great to-do tracking tool) has a great read on the technique and how the ins and outs work.
When you’re a small business owner, taking control of your productivity is a must. There are only a finite number of hours a day which means a finite number of opportunities to do the work you need to do. Scheduling these tasks and properly planning your day around your personality is vital to take advantage of your focus peaks and close your day out with less things on your to-do list then the day started with.