It’s not difficult to find books and articles with time management tips for busy people. But while tips for time management are certainly worth learning and practicing, they don’t always correlate with business efficiency and may not be actionable for small business owners.
By optimizing your time management with some simple—yet often overlooked—hacks, you can lead by example and empower your team to improve day-to-day productivity.
Why is productivity so important for small businesses?
Time is a valuable asset that doesn’t replenish. With information and communication flowing so quickly and freely, you need to move fast when making critical business decisions––to keep up with trends, competitors, and your growing to-do list.
For small businesses, time moves even faster. Owners and employees likely wear multiple hats, and there are some deadlines you just can’t push out. Effective leaders know how to make adjustments, reprioritize, and cultivate a productive environment even in the most challenging times.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 20% of new businesses fail within two years of opening, and 45% close up shop within the first five years. Small businesses that don’t implement proven productivity hacks face the danger of falling behind competitors, and risk going out of business.
7 small business productivity hacks
1. Let your team members’ roles and strengths determine when and where they work.
Do your salespeople need to come into the office every day? Can your bookkeeper work from home and balance their job with the need to care for their preschool children? Can your marketing manager work remotely as long as they get the job done?
Some of your employees can be more productive working remotely, while some may prefer to come into the office. Flexible business owners and managers are letting their employees figure out when and where they’re most productive, and with that increased productivity comes an improved bottom line.
2. Hire people who have different strengths than you.
Many business owners and hiring managers make the mistake of hiring in their own image and end up with a team that mirrors their strengths and weaknesses. While this may perhaps lead to a more compatible team, it doesn’t always mean it will be the most effective or efficient.
The best work happens when individuals with different backgrounds and strengths come together. For example, your strength as an extrovert may be leading a sales team, but your marketing manager may be an introvert with a more creative mind. When you combine the two skillsets, you’ll get a more well-rounded marketing campaign than if you’d just hired a team of ‘yes’ people.
3. Learn to say ‘no.’
As a leader, you can’t be everything to everyone all the time. When you’re stretched too thin, your productivity decreases because your focus is less intense on any given task. Not to mention the detrimental effects on your mental health.
Many owners and managers want to please others to a fault and have difficulty saying no. But, you may occasionally have to decline some opportunities to fully focus on others. Know what your priorities are so you can make confident decisions and stay agile when a good opportunity arises.
4. Appreciate and reward your employees.
Employees who are appreciated are more productive and stay with their employer longer than those who aren’t. In light of “The Great Resignation” and many people not returning to work after the pandemic, productivity and employee retention are more vital than ever to the success of your business.
Rewards and benefits are also necessary, but you need to listen to your employees. Pizza parties and team-building activities are fun, but most people put more stock in fair compensation, paid time off, and health benefits or family leave policies.
5. Use technology to support asynchronous work.
Although in-person meetings are sometimes necessary, sending employees to a trade show is no longer seen as the most productive use of their time. Instead, video-conferencing or virtual trade shows save valuable time and allow employees to focus on truly productive tasks.
In-office staff that isn’t necessarily customer-facing can also boost productivity using online tools. For example, an easy-to-use bill pay solution may be just what your accounts payable specialist needs to save time for more critical tasks.
You can also buy a license for your team to use online project management software, so they can easily stay in sync and move tasks along without spending unnecessary time in meetings.
6. ‘Eat the frog’ and teach your team to do the same.
Mark Twain had to be talking about productivity when he said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” In other words, do the most challenging thing on your calendar or to-do list first thing in the morning.
This is a similar strategy to the ‘debt avalanche’ method of paying off debt: You start with the bigger, more challenging item first, so you can build momentum and confidence to knock out the smaller items.
Starting big can help curb procrastination. Many people tend to drag their feet and not perform at their best when they’re putting off a meeting or task they dread doing later in the day. Getting it done first frees the mind and lifts the spirit, which translates into getting the rest of your list finished with less strain and better concentration.
7. Prioritize physical and mental health.
Business philosopher Jim Rohn once said, “Some people don’t do good because they don’t feel good.” This certainly applies to everyone at work who isn’t feeling well. When you’re not feeling at the top of your game…you play like it.
Encourage your employees to stay healthy physically and mentally. Establish a culture that prioritizes work/life balance so the team can enjoy time off with their loved ones. Push them to use vacation days, travel, and do things outside of work that help make them feel fulfilled. A healthy balance will lead to a happier, more engaged staff.
The toughest part about this tip is knowing when you need a break, and allowing yourself the time you need to recharge. As is the case with many of these productivity and time management tips, small business owners should always lead by example.