We seem to have a productivity problem in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity has consistently been down over the past year, with no gains from quarter to quarter until recently: the third quarter of 2016 marks the first increase in measured productivity this year, with a 3.4% increase.

Productivity problems don't just happen at the employee level, either; business owners often struggle with productivity as well. This can stem from shifting focus to practices that don't provide immediate or long-term value, getting caught in small distractions, poor planning, not delegating, or using the wrong tools - these can all directly impact productivity and performance at the top.

When leadership's performance falls, the problem will likely roll downhill. Simply put, ineffective or unproductive leadership can kill motivation and employee productivity while also affecting the ability to retain employees.

The most successful business owners learn how to better manage their productivity, giving them more control over their time so they can focus on leading and growing their businesses. Here are 7 things they do that you should too.

1. They Use Tools to Handle the Minutiae

As a business owner, you know there's always more work to be done, more tasks to handle, and more projects coming. So of course it makes sense to find the most efficient ways to complete those tasks.

The most productive managers use tools to simplify or more effectively manage routine processes to free up more of their time. You can bet there's a tool or application for just about every activity you perform in the workplace.

But you don't need to start collecting dozens of tools to stay productive; you just need to find the ones that work best for you. A few smart tools you could implement to streamline some common processes include:

Payroll: Set up an application like Wagepoint that makes it easier to track employee hours and get payroll done fast, without spending hours each week trying to calculate pay.

Fulfillment: A lot of e-commerce companies manually process order fulfillment. Instead, use a tool like Shipstation to automatically sync orders, process shipments, and keep customer accounts updated with shipping information with just a few clicks.

Communication: Stop spending too much time in email, searching threads and old conversations. Use a tool like Slack to keep everyone on the same page and in tune with what's going on.

Audit your day-to-day and find out where you're losing the most time, then find tools that align with your needs.

2. They Get Outside of the Office

You might feel like you're being productive by spending hours at your desk banging away at projects, but it's not always the most effective use of your time. You need to get up and get out there in order to grow your business and refresh your focus.

Getting out of the office is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Meeting with customers, discovering new product opportunities, and connecting with new contacts and prospects can all generate fresh ideas and keep you on top of what's happening with your business.

This can be something as simple as running to grab a coffee, taking lunch away from work, or hitting up a local conference or meetup. Getting out is critical to networking and personal growth, and 93% of professionals say they're more productive outside the office.

You may not have a dazzling new idea every time you get out, but it contributes to a better work/life balance. It's a necessary change of scenery that can improve your focus when you get back to the office.

3. They Get Close with Customers to Fill the Gaps

A huge distraction for business owners isn't social media, or getting caught up in email; it's trying to understand where their growth issues are, and how to uncover what's missing from their success formula.

The business itself can generate a lot of distractions that dilute your focus. To eliminate those distractions, take the time to get close to your customers so you can fill the gaps. By communicating with them, they can provide a lot of insight into what they want, how they want it, and how you can provide more value. It also gives you the chance to build a real relationship with customers, which is the first step to turning them into advocates.

4. They Learn to Say No

There are a finite number of hours available in your work day, so you need to aggressively protect the time you have available if you want to maximize productivity. Tools and applications can help, but if you're constantly saying yes, then you put other people and projects in control of your daily routine.

Carefully choose where you decide to devote your time and attention, and learn to say no more often. Take on the things that provide the greatest benefit or value for you and your business. Refuse or delegate everything else.

5. They Plan Their Days

The most successful business owners, including CEOs of large corporations, are meticulous about planning and scheduling their days. They know that if they don't plan their day, something else will come along and do it for them.

Without planning, it's impossible to prioritize your day. Your priority shifts to whatever crosses your plate with an "urgent" stamp, leaving you with a lot of unfinished tasks and attempts to multi-task.

Start your day with a task list and sort by priority. At the end of the day, review what you accomplished and start looking to tomorrow. This pre-planning gives you greater control over your schedule, helps you stay on task to remain productive, and as new items pop up, it will be easier to make the decision to say yes, no, or to delegate.

6. They Don't Try to Do Everything

Studies have shown that attempting to multitask is a huge productivity killer; you're splitting your focus and doing multiple tasks poorly instead of one task well. To maximize productivity, you need to understand the limits of how many projects you can personally handle.

To grow your business, make use of the people around you and learn to leverage the skills of others. Train your team to make delegating easier, or use a platform like Zirtual to bring on virtual assistants to handle mundane tasks that don't really need your level of attention.

7. They Find Their Productivity Pockets

We all have peak energy levels during the day. This is where your body and mind are running at peak efficiency. This varies for everyone, so find out when you're most attentive and on-point. Schedule your most critical tasks within those productivity pockets. That laser focus will improve your output and help you complete your tasks faster.

When your productivity starts to slip, what's the one thing you do to get back on track and stay productive? Share your insight with me in the comments below:

Published on: Nov 26, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.