08 Apr Business Productivity Tips & Hacks from the Pros
Productivity is a critical measure in business because it lets you know how much of your business expenses result in profitable goods. If you feel that you have yet to maximize your own or your employees’ potential for completing value added tasks, then read on.
We asked a number of professionals in different fields to share with us their tips for being productive and listed them below for you.
Here are the top 31 business productivity tips & hacks from the pros.
1. Use emails if you do not have a paid Slack or Basecamp subscription.
Reading through your inbox is time-consuming, and everyone usually advises using less email. However, emails are still better in keeping the history of all conversations, approvals, and iterations. If you do not pay for your Slack or Basecamp account, you won’t be able to go back to a message sent to your design team back in summer or find a file someone who left the company a month ago sent. Email threads can save you some time in these situations.
2. Use “support tickets” to coordinate among teams.
At Intrinio, we support thousands of users every day with their financial data feed needs. Sometimes, there are bugs, data issues, or feature requests. Coordinating between the tech side of the business and the sales team gets messy if these requests don’t come through in an orderly fashion. We leverage Jira by Atlassian to submit “support tickets”, which helps keep us productive and on track. The support team is able to submit a clearly documented request, and the development team is able to prioritize issues and complete them as fast as possible. This task-based application keeps our entire team productive as we continue to scale.
3. Launch a new service or product to motivate your team.
Post-holiday, it can be difficult to get motivated and be productive. Now is the perfect time to come up with new tailored services to support both you and your clients through the post-Christmas blues. Think soup deliveries, hot yoga, hot stone pedicure; any service that makes life a little easier and offers comfort is likely to pique interest. Offering a new service can also give you and your team just the motivation you need to push through the winter slump. To maintain enthusiasm, set up achievable goals, so you can end each week with a sense of accomplishment.
4. Stop multi-tasking and focus your time.
There is no such thing as multi-tasking. It’s really just switching between tasks very quickly. It’s an incredible waste of time because it takes time to get up to speed with a new task. Instead take the opposite approach. Try to devote each day overwhelmingly to one critically important task. Sure, there might be urgent pressing issues that require interruption. In fact, you may want to devote whole days to getting through lots of pressing small tasks. But nonetheless if you can overwhelmingly focus most of your days on one really important task, you and your employees can really move your business ahead.
5. Manage repetitive tasks.
It’s shocking how many repetitive tasks we perform on a day-to-day basis without any second thought. Try to identify these tasks as quickly as possible and create tools to help yourself. With a little practice and some free software, you can build hotkey shortcuts for repetitive tasks, as well as customized push alerts from almost any input source with no coding required. This will allow you to focus less time on collecting data and more time acting on it.
6. Keep everything organized with a to-do list
At Real Estate Prep Guide, we place great emphasis on organization. Because we are a small business, we know that we cannot waste time on productivity, and we believe the key to always being on top of our game is to be very organized. One thing that we have done as a company is organize our tasks so that everyone is aware of what needs to be done. When we take the time to make to-do lists and hold each other accountable for the items on the list, we are more successful. It can be hard to get back into the swing of things after time off, but we have seen a great amount of success come when we organize our to-do’s and stay on top of our game.
7. Digitize as many things as you can.
One of the best and overlooked ways to increase productivity is to eliminate office paperwork by going digital and storing your important documents in the cloud. As if running a small business was not difficult and challenging enough, handling daily paperwork is time consuming and often a huge headache. Many business owners spend almost as much time on paperwork as they do running their business. In this age of technology, no business should have to manage their business and team on paper. It’s bad for the business, and it’s bad for the employees. If you really want to better manage your time, run your company better, and be more productive, eliminate the paperwork!
8. Combine deep work with your most productive hours.
Deep work is a way of setting aside a certain undisturbed amount of time for the most difficult tasks. The goal is to eliminate any external distractions (phone, social media, etc.) and have at least 1-2h of deeply concentrated work. One research suggests that out of 8 working hours, average worker is truly productive just 2h 53min. Some might find their peak is in the morning, some might work the best in early afternoon, and so on. It is important to understand your working pattern and set aside 2 deep work hours for the time you are the most productive. This incredible hack helped me to do 6-8h work in just 2h and have the rest of the day for solving unexpected issues, giving more attention to my team, or working on new ideas.
9. Avoid context-switching.
Avoid context-switching, which is what happens when you spend 60 minutes in a client meeting, then 30 minutes scrolling through social media, then the next hour trying to work on big-picture, high-level business development stuff, and so on. It’s exhausting to have your brain switch into different modes of thinking constantly throughout the day, and you’re way less productive if you’re always switching between different kinds of work. My best productivity tip is to organize your schedule so entire days are dedicated to one type of thinking. For example, I have all my meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mondays and Wednesdays are for client work and tasks, and Fridays and weekends are for big-picture creative thinking.
10. Use the 80-20 analysis.
One of the biggest traps that small business owners fall into is non-productive time. That’s why a great tool for any owner/manager is to evaluate your productivity by scheduling a monthly 80-20 analysis. This technique can help increase sales while cutting back on hours.The point of the exercise is to highlight the most important things you need to focus by figuring out 20% of the activities that are producing 80% of your desired results. Then look at the 20% of activities that are wasting 80% of you time. Once you find the overlap, you can eliminate things that are keeping you busy but offering no results.
11. Prioritize your projects.
As a business owner, I have found I am most productive when I make time weekly to identify and then focus on the important. Before the week starts I do a brain dump and get everything that’s been floating around in my mind out and on paper to clear head space. From that list, I pick the top 2-3 things I deem most important for that week. I create a T chart where I list those items under “Projects” on the left and the actionable steps to complete them under “To Do” on the right. That allows me to work from an isolated list based strictly on the most important projects.
12. Understand the four quadrants of work.
As principal of my company, I have about a million things flying across my desk all day, and without the ability to identify which tasks are urgent and important, I would never get anything done. On a daily basis, I take a look at all the things I’m needed for and select 1-3 things that will make the most impact, then I try to get to those items first. There are four quadrants of “work”, with importance on the x-axis and urgency on the y-axis. In quadrant one, you have “urgent and important” work, in quadrant two “not urgent, but important” work, in quadrant three “not important and not urgent” work, and in quadrant four “urgent, but not important” work. To me, success is operating somewhere in quadrant two, with “urgent and important” work (quadrant one) already taken care of.
13. Finish the difficult projects first.
When facing a long list of tasks ahead of you, it will lighten your mood to get those pesky tasks that you hate out of the way first. It’s a psychological trick. You’re still doing all of the tasks you have planned, including the ones you love, but getting those hard and annoying tasks done first while your energy is still high will likely get them done faster. You will also find you need more time to complete the hard, complex tasks than the easier, more enjoyable tasks. Better to have those done early so that you are not running up against your deadline with a bunch of complex tasks that will add to your stress levels.
14. Always plan for tomorrow at the end of the day.
My favorite productivity hack is spending the last 15 minutes of my day planning for the next morning. I write down a to-do list at the end of each day, so I can hit the ground running the following morning when I get to the office. I do this away from my cell phone and laptop so that I can focus without distraction. Not just any random list, but a well thought out, specific, and targeted to do list, including phone calls I need to make, significant emails, and meetings. I make sure to only put things on the list that I know are achievable the next day. I have found the first hour sets the tone to ensuring productivity for the remainder of the day.
15. Answer every phone call, but don’t let it disrupt you.
A ringing phone is death to your productivity, especially when you’re on a roll. But if you refuse to answer, then you have to suffer through a voicemail later (or deal with an annoyed customer.) Instead, answer the phone the moment it rings, and ask if you can call them right back. Set up a reminder for five or ten minutes. That lets you finish what you are doing and prepare to return the call. And it means you’ll be in control, rather than just reacting to what they have to say!
16. Use technology-based productivity aids.
We use a number of pieces of technology to help with our short-term and long-term goals. In contrast to the technology we regularly use, a new twist on an old school technique has made a huge difference. We have covered every surface of our ‘war room’ conference room — and much of our offices — with paint made to be used with dry erase markers. We use the surfaces to brainstorm, write key tasks, create strategic mind maps, divide work assignments and more. If it’s important to goal setting and productivity, it goes on the wall as a constant reminder of how we should focus our efforts. By regularly using this one simple idea, we have taken our productivity to new levels.
17. Find creative ways to complete difficult tasks.
One way to maximize productivity, especially for those of us who believe we’re “not good at time management” is to make a game out of doing a task you’ve been avoiding. One of my clients plays Beat the Clock to get repetitive tasks done. To take advantage of small windows of time, use the timer on your phone to set a specific number of minutes to complete the task, such as 10 or 15 minutes. Remove all distractions during that time and completely focus on doing this one thing for the limited time you have determined. When the timer rings, if you’ve finished the task, take a short break, even one to two minutes, by getting up and walking around or getting a drink of water. If you haven’t finished the task in the allotted time, you can set the clock for another round.
18. Allow flexibility to work schedules.
According to Bloomberg, researchers have discovered that “when workers have control over their own schedules, it results in lower levels of stress, psychological distress, burnout, and greater job satisfaction.” People who are in tune with their daily habits understand what time of day offers the best chance to be creative, which means that flexible work can also create opportunities for more effective work. As a solution, we started working with agnostic schedules. This means that there are no fixed working hours. Each employee defines their own agenda according to their own life (if they have children who demand their attention at certain times of the day or not, if they have parents to help, or if they have other extra work commitments, such as going to the doctor for a treatment or taking a course to learn a new language).
19. Write reminders on your hand.
In the office, I tend to get mental blocks most of the time. It’s because of the stress, and the constant pressure of clients. Although people may think that cleaning is very easy, It’s really not because you have to put in a lot of effort. To stay positive and keep the productivity alive throughout the day, I will usually write down what I need to do for the day on my hands. It’s weird, but it has worked for me. I write it on my hand instead of a piece of paper so that I can look at my hand anytime and remember what I have to do right away.
20. Store templates for common customer FAQs.
When dealing with clients, we often find ourselves repeating the same explanations and answers to questions again and again. It makes sense to combine individual customer guidance, with online content publication. For example, if a client emails with a valid question, rather than creating an email from scratch or picking up the phone, you can create a comprehensive answer of 1000 words or more. Spend a lot of time reviewing, editing, and polishing it. This new document can be used to create a blog post for your website, and kept in a folder, along with all of your other similar guidance emails. These answers can be used as templates for future client interactions, and each time the customer will see the effort that you’ve put in.
21. Create & stick to meeting agendas.
We have had the same problems as many companies with meetings that tend to meander and drag on interminably. We addressed this by creating a weekly leadership meeting agenda that requires us to be consistent and accountable. We have the meeting on the same day and time every week, with the same agenda, and we make sure to start it and end it on time, with the understanding that the full agenda has to be covered — no exceptions. It sounds simple but it works, and we’ve found instilling this discipline has spread to meetings across the organization and is literally saving us hours of productivity while reducing employee frustrations.
22. Take a lot of breaks.
Take a lot of small breaks throughout the day, but separate breaks by 20-30 minute intervals of hyper-focused work. In time, you’ll train your brain to remain completely focused for short periods of time, which helps improve your attention span and concentration. If you’re not the anxious type, it’s so much easier to stay focused and productive when you know you have a limited amount of time. Most people call this the Pomodoro Technique, but I prefer to think of it as my own little “carrot and stick” approach. I get stuff done, and I get to take a coffee break, go for a walk, or read the newspaper. Overall, it makes for a more enjoyable as well as productive workday.
23. Use a messaging app with your team.
Slack is popular for a reason! It cuts down on email and allows everyone on my team to get answers or information quickly. But it also helps with productivity in another way. Because my team is remote, it also gives us a chance to easily connect. We typically end up having some pretty funny conversations, and that sense of camaraderie definitely boosts productivity (and happiness).
24. Remove EOW (end of week) from your vocabulary.
It’s so easy to accept “end of week” as a reasonable timeline for deliverables that people often accept it without thinking. This decision often keeps us on the hook for staying late on a Friday and leads to stress over a made up deadline. The best way to keep yourself out of this dark place is to be more thoughtful and intentional before casually relying on EOW as the easy out. You’ll often find that EOD (end of day) Thursday is an attainable deadline, and leaving an extra day after delivery to implement what’s been done, or to ask questions, will make you and your teams happier and more productive as they close out the week.
25. Use site blockers.
Use site blockers. It isn’t enough to simply decide you aren’t going to check Facebook or your favorite news outlet for a few hours while you get work done. You’ll end up there anyway – it’s habit. But you can use site blockers so you can truly work without the threat of distraction. If you Google “site blocker for xyz website” you can easily find what you need.
26. Use email filters.
Believe it or not, only about a half-dozen emails hit my inbox every day of the hundreds sent to me. For several years, I’ve spent my last half hour on Fridays adding new rules to Gmail’s inbox, and now I only receive exactly what I need to see. We encourage our staff to do the same every week since barrages of unimportant email are a huge time sink. The best way to implement this is to start with a whitelist rather than a blacklist so that unknown senders aren’t sneaking into your day until you’re ready to see them. Because our staff interacts with thousands of stores with several representatives each, these rules are even more time-saving for them, since they’re more likely to be copied on emails that they don’t need to read.
27. Reduce meeting frequency and times through shared meals.
By offering food as a benefit, employers are not only able to attract and retain top talent but also make their team a more productive one. Sharing a meal with coworkers allows for trust building, better communication, more collaboration, and ultimately, an increase in productivity. With office food programs, employers save employees time (on average 20 minutes) from going out for food, money on spending (workers spend an average of $1K on coffee and $2K on lunch a year), and encourage more informal meetings over food, often decreasing meeting frequency times.
28. Take strategic planning seriously.
Strategic planning is the first step. Identify where you want your business to be in five years, then work backward from there. Your plan should include a list of task-oriented goals, to get you to your ultimate goal. When you are planning your days, weeks, and months, make sure to hold your own feet to the fire. My ultimate goal was to help more people. To do that, I had to grow my business, not just in size and revenue, but in reach. I set milestones for myself and my business and performed each task, growing my business through acquisition. More importantly, this growth allows us to help more people than I ever could with just one location.
29. Set a time to quit working.
One of the simplest and biggest ways to improve productivity overall is to set a time to quit working. No one can run at 100% efficiency working morning, noon, and night. Our minds and bodies are very much like machines, and the less time you set aside to update and recharge, the sooner you may experience chronic fatigue, burnout, or a worse health risk. Set your “quitting” time, don’t check your email, don’t take work-related calls unless it’s an emergency, and don’t think about work. Spend time with family, friends, or pursue a hobby in these off hours. Doing so will improve your relationships, mood, and your productivity when you are at work.
30. Institute no-meeting Wednesdays.
We all know how it feels to be interrupted or overscheduled on a day when your plate is full. Block out one day where no one in the office has meetings. This gives everyone an opportunity to churn out some work on a major project, or simply to take care of all those little tasks that pile up during the week. This idea comes from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. According to the tech leader, banning mid-week meetings made a big impact on productivity at Facebook HQ.
31. Get Boomerang for Gmail.
I use a Google mail extension called Boomerang. Boomerang alerts you if any emails you send aren’t replied to within X days. This has been extremely helpful with ideas not getting lost AND reducing the worry time I have had with making sure something gets implemented or moved forward.
There are a lot of days that I just do not feel like doing any work, and obviously when you work for yourself, this is very easy to get away with. That being said, whenever I decide not to work I am taking money out of my own pocket. Here are some productivity tips I find work well.
- Make a change in my environment, in other words, I go to a coffee shop or hotel lobby to get a change of mindset.
- Drop everything and go to sleep early, but first set an alarm for 2 hours earlier than my normal wake-up time. This can help, getting more rested the following day, but I get a super early start to the day and that next day is always very productive.