Are you using your time as well as you'd like to? Whether you're taking your first steps into the world of entrepreneurship or you've been running your own business(es) for decades, boosting productivity could mean achieving all your goals--and more.
These six tips are designed to deliver serious improvement to your current levels of productivity. If you can, tackle them in order.
How much of your time is spent on emails or on the phone versus doing your most important work? If you don't have a clear picture of how your days are spent, it's going to be tough to make improvements.
A couple of great tools for this are Time Doctor (which has a 30-day free plan) and RescueTime (which has a free version). Both track everything you do at your computer and break it down into different categories for you. If you prefer, keep a list on paper or in a spreadsheet of what you did when. Although this takes more effort, it will force you to make more conscious decisions about how you spend your time.
Go further: Each week, look at where your time was spent. Is there a particular productivity hole that needs plugging? Perhaps you're spending longer than you realized on email, or "quickly checking Facebook" is adding up to several hours over the course of a week.
At the start of your workday, or the end of the previous one, plan out what you'll be doing. If you don't, it's too easy to end up tackling low-priority tasks or getting knocked off-track by interruptions and sudden requests.
Your plan needs to be more detailed than "write report for three hours." I plan my days in 15-minute intervals, breaking down tasks into clear steps. You might want to experiment with different lengths of time--for instance, the Pomodoro technique involves working for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break.
Go further: Aim to work during your most productive hours. The standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. isn't right for everyone. I work from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. so I can spend my evening with family and get to bed early. (A clear end to your work day will help you stay focused, too.)
Do you ever get to the end of a day only to find that, though you've been working long hours, you don't seem to have accomplished much?
It's easy to get caught up in doing the wrong things. It might feel good to clear your inbox or tidy your desk, but if you're doing those at the expense of finding new clients or completing important work, you're not making any gains.
It helps if you're well organized so you can keep projects moving quickly. Asana is a great tool for this. If you're disorganized, it's easy to end up forgetting about critical steps or rushing through tasks at the last minute.
Go further: Choose one to three key priorities for the upcoming week. What will have a real impact on your bottom line? What tasks are truly important?
If you have employees, you're hopefully already delegating tasks, though probably not as many as you should. If you're running a one-person business, perhaps it's time to hire a virtual assistant who could help with a particular area, like editing and transcribing audio files.
A lot of entrepreneurs resist delegating because they feel it's less hassle to handle tasks themselves. If your work involves any repeated tasks, like setting up newsletters, researching new blog content, curating content to share on Twitter or Facebook, etc., then you can create a document with step-by-step instructions for someone to follow.
While this means investing a bit of extra time upfront, you'll soon reap the benefits of having someone else tackle tasks that are constantly eating up your time.
Go further: Don't go for the cheapest support you can find. Ideally, you want to delegate to people who are confident working on their own and who can make decisions without constantly double-checking with you.
5. Leveraging the Right Tools
It pays to use the best tools for the job. Some of my favorites are:
- Hootsuite: manage different social network accounts from one location
- Buffer: schedule social network updates in advance
- Feedly: get blog updates, news and RSS feeds all in one place
- Asana: organize tasks and conversations within your team
- Slack: bring together emails, chat, files, and more
- Basecamp: online project management for businesses of all sizes
- Dropbox: store files in the Cloud and access them easily on your computers
- LastPass: never struggle to remember (or recover) a password again
Two huge productivity killers are interruptions (caused by others) and distractions (caused by you). If you're going to be successful as an entrepreneur, you need to work to eliminate as many of these as possible.
While each interruption may only take up a few minutes of your time, they'll often knock you out of the flow of your work, especially if you're busy with something that requires a lot of concentration. You may not be able to eliminate every interruption, but you can certainly get rid of some. For instance, turn off your phone notifications and only check emails at certain intervals. When it comes to distractions, you may want to use a browser plugin like StayFocusd to block time-wasting websites if you find yourself struggling to stay on task.
Go further: To cut down on interruptions, help your colleagues understand that you're unavailable at certain times with visual cues, like wearing headphones or closing your office door.
One final tip: Don't feel that you have to make all of these improvements at once. Often, it's better to get one new way of working firmly established before adding new ones. If you spend two weeks on each of these tips, making it a real habit, you could easily be twice as productive within three months.