Do you feel like you’re not productive in your business? Are you finding you’re struggling to get through as much as you want to? Do you get frustrated when the end of the week rolls around and you feel you haven’t gotten enough done?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Plenty of our clients experience this from time-to-time. So do we! However, if you stay this way, you’ll never accomplish anything of significance.
Fortunately, it is very easy to start taking simple steps that will help you get through more with the time you have available. We’re talking about improving the productivity of your business. Here are some practices that we have researched and implemented in our own business. These 6 simple steps have proven themselves as definite productivity enhancers time and time again and so we’d love to now share them with you.
Multi-Tasking Makes You Less Productive!
I used to think that multi-tasking was the best way to maximise productivity. For most of my life, all sorts of people would tell me how good they were at multi-tasking and joke that if I couldn’t do more than a single thing at once I was somehow inferior. Even though I knew they were only having a laugh, something in the back of my mind suggested that I should be able to do it myself.
Growing up, I would read all sorts of books and watch documentaries that talked about advances in productivity since the start of the industrial revolution. The common element among these stories was doing more and more. I assumed that to continue making productivity gains, we needed to keep doing the same thing: more!
Little did I know I was wrong. Over the years I have learnt that trying to do too much is counter-productive. The more you attempt to do, the less you end up getting done in overall.
In this post, I take you through six simple steps you can implement to be more productive in your business.#SmartBusiness owners do less, not more! Click To Tweet
The Key to Productivity is Doing Less
1. Stop multi-tasking – it doesn’t work
Have you ever tried working on something and then had a young child come and interrupt you because they wanted to talk or play or generally get some attention? If you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to ignore the little ones in our lives and you’ll probably try to half listen in to them while continuing your work. While this is going on you eventually realise that it is taking you a ridiculously long time to get through your task that would normally take you just a few minutes. This is multi-tasking.
In a business setting the same thing can occur. You start working on something but then you switch over to something else like checking your email, responding to a question from a team member or answering an incoming client query. When you’re ready to switch back to your task, you need a moment to recall where you were up to and what you were doing. You hear yourself reciting the familiar phrase “now, where was I?”
Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance confirms that when people try to perform two or more tasks at the same time, the time taken to complete the tasks is typically longer than it is when the same task is performed alone. Because you need to switch contexts between the various tasks as you work on them, you end up with a bottleneck in your thought process that slows you down.
In other words, we are less productive when we try to multi-task.
It is very tempting and sometimes even gratifying to try and get through more in our business by doing several things at once. But the fact is, that sort of multi-tasking is just going to slow us down.
So, our suggestion in response to this is to focus on one thing at a time. Decide what it is you are going to do next, visualise or plan how you are going to do it and what it would mean to be ‘done’, and then concentrate on it. Where possible, stick to that task until you get through it. Don’t jump onto anything else until you’ve absolutely finished it. Try to avoid flitting around from one thing to another, unless of course you have no choice because you are waiting for something.
You can approach this from a macro-level and from a micro-level. i.e. individuals should only work on a single project or operational activity in your business at once, and then stick to one specific work item at a time. This idea of taking a focused big picture view and splitting things within a project brings us to the next productivity practice.
2. Break things up into discreet ‘chunks’ and tasks
There are essentially two ways to undertake a project or operation in your business. You can either ‘wing-it’ i.e. figure it out as you go, ‘on-the-fly’. Or you can put together some form of plan or procedure and follow it through. It is very tempting when you have done something before to just go with your knowledge and experience. However, research and observed results of truly successful companies confirm that if you really want to be as productive as you can, creating a plan and following it is the most productive approach.
Work breakdowns are a tried and true method within the project management profession. Similarly, standard operating procedures are the cornerstone of successful business operations.
A simple way to start this with your next business project is to think about the main things that need to be done for the project to be considered a success. Now, for each one of these main things, write down what tasks will need to be undertaken. Then for each one of those tasks, logically split them out further until each item can be completed by itself with a small team or by an individual. Basically, what you have once complete is a project work breakdown.
For business operations, the concept is similar but focuses more on the fact that the work is repeated over and over. So, start off by listing the main activities of the operation. Then for each main activity, list out the steps that make up the activity. Keep following this ‘decomposition’ approach until you have a workable script, made up of discrete tasks, that small teams or individuals can perform themselves. Essentially, what you are creating here is a ‘standard operating procedure’ which we’ll talk more about in a later topic.
This approach of breaking down your business projects or operational activities will really help you maintain focus. It will help reduce the overall complexity and it will also give you confidence as you see the momentum of completing tasks. In the next productivity practice, we’ll describe how to use these tasks.
3. Prioritise your work based on value and dependencies
Have you ever found yourself procrastinating by working on trivial things because you weren’t quite ‘ready’ to get onto those more challenging tasks? I know I have, I’m guilty of doing exactly that sometimes when it’s my turn to clean up the kitchen at home. Occasionally I find myself getting stuck into something in our business when I know there are more important things to be done. This form of misspent effort can be gratifying in a way but it is hardly productive. It is false busy-ness, plain and simple.
There is a solution and it involves being more disciplined and structured about the way you work. Following on from the previous advice, now that you’ve got a list of tasks to get through, the next thing that will help improve your productivity is to put things into priority order. That way you can work on most important things first and the least important things last.
This part is straightforward. Just ask yourself, what task will provide the most value to my business right now? Then, are there any tasks related to it that need to be completed, either before or after, for it to be considered done-properly / successfully? The answer to these two questions will give you a task or a set of tasks to be worked on first. Then, ask yourself what task provides the next most value, and what are its related tasks. Then continue in this way down the line until you have everything in priority order.
By doing this, you can be sure that you’ll be working in a sequence the delivers the best returns to your business and therefore increases your productivity. From here, you’re ready to get into the work itself, but before you do, there is one thing you’ll need to take care of.
4. Remove the distractions, they’ll just slow you down and impact your quality
You want to be more productive? Fine – get yourself into a comfortable work environment for whatever it is you’re working on and, this is the key, prevent yourself from getting distracted. Turn off any notifications and turn off the email, Twitter, Facebook, phone, etc. Block out the calendar. Ask your staff to handle incoming calls and visitors. If you have kids nearby, make sure they’re busy. Make sure the dog is fed, and for that matter, make sure you’ve got something in your own belly. Shut the door, and if you need to, turn out the lights, put out a ‘do not disturb sign’. Ok, well, I’m taking it a bit to the extreme just to prove a point really.
The point I’m trying to make is that to be productive you need to be able concentrate. Anything that can command your attention is going to distract you from what you are doing and will ultimately reduce your productivity.
Every distraction you let get in your way is going to result in more time required to get something done and can perhaps also reduce the quality of what it is you are producing.
Do yourself and your business a favour. If something is worth doing, then free yourself up to focus on getting it done as efficiently and effectively as possible.
5. Stop over-analysing things, make decisions fast
Want to know why kids are so good at picking up new skills? It is primarily because their minds haven’t yet developed to let the analytical portion take over when they go about solving problems. Kids make decisions quickly based on what they think they know and they sometimes make mistakes. But the benefit of making mistakes is that they learn by doing. Luckily, these mistakes don’t generally end up being too great since they have us adults around to look out for them when needed.
Want to know why adults can sometimes take so long to get things done? Because we’ve developed these wonderful analytical skills that help us solve complex problems and produce optimal solutions. We spend too much time picking problems apart and analysing them. Entrepreneurs, start-ups and small business owners are inherently good problem solvers, they need to be to overcome challenges faced on a regular basis.
This is a double edge sword unfortunately. For the most part, you are going to face a series of tasks in your day-to-day business that are not super-complex by themselves. These tasks don’t really need our analytical powers to be unleashed to get them done. They simply need to be carried out quickly and in such a way that isn’t detrimental to our overall goals.
There are always going to be more things to be done in your business than you have capacity to get through. This will be true whether you’re a one-person bootstrapper or a funded venture with a great team. The key to staying to productive in the face of all this work is to be as productive as possible by getting through tasks rapidly.
Time spent analysing each task and trying to get the optimal solution is time wasted. Sure, you might improve the design here, or save a few dollars there, or get the best fit of features or produce a slightly higher return. But if it takes you 10 times as long to do all this, then is it really worth it? Probably not.
Instead, think like a child and go with what you think is best at the time based on what you know. Sure, you’ll make mistakes but consider them a learning opportunity. There are tactics you can use to turn this sort approach into a comparison/testing situation. That is, if you’re not entirely sure about various alternatives, test one against another and measure the results. Don’t assume you’re always going to get everything right in business – just get on with it.
You needn’t worry about making catastrophic mistakes. By this point, given you’re reached the stage in your career when you are running your own business, you’ll have enough knowledge and experience to prevent yourself making extremely risky decisions. Trust in yourself and your ability to learn.
Speaking of abilities, this brings us to our last step in becoming more productive
6. For maximum efficiency, outsource where you can
This has to be the single most important step to improving your productivity as an entrepreneur, start-up or small business owner. While the steps outlined above can bring you incremental improvements, outsourcing can bring you much larger improvements – particularly in terms of time saved.
For example, let’s say your business only has about 10 to 15 hours each week available to focus on growth activities. We’ll, assume the rest of the time is spent doing other work either in your business or is taken up in some other way. Well, if you can outsource a task the normally takes you or your staff around 4 hours each week, that is a whopping 25% of your time gained back for the week.
Of course, you might start questioning how much it would cost you outsource that work. It is most effective for you to outsource things that really don’t require your own level of skill to complete. This way, with the extra time you gain back, you can focus on higher value activities such as marketing & sales, customer retention, growth strategies, etc.
You see, your role as an entrepreneur, start-up or small business owner is not so much to do the work all the time. Instead, smart founders build great businesses and then nurture them so they can grow and flourish.
The questions we get people to ask themselves are focused on making a choice. Is it beneficial for you, or your staff to be hacking away at this administrative task that you know you must do but you’re not really good at? Or, would it make more sense to outsource this task to a professional service provider that can do it much more efficiently? And once you have free up that time, what high value business activity could you be doing instead? Perhaps you could use that time to focus on prospecting for new customers, or perhaps you could dedicate more time to developing your inbound marketing strategies, or even concentrating more on networking and relationship building if that is the thing that really helps drive more sales.
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Give Them a Try
There you have it, 6 simple steps you can start taking today to help you become more productive in your business. Give them a try and let us know what sort of results you achieve. If you have any questions, we’ll gladly try to answer them for you. Equally, if you have any other ideas, we’d love to hear from you… Drop us a line in the comments below.
Levy, J, & Pashler, H 2001, ‘Is Dual-Task Slowing Instruction Dependent?’, Journal Of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception & Performance, 27, 4, p. 862, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 July 2015.