If you’re running a small business, chances are you grapple with low productivity from time to time.
Small business owners and operators often have too many things on their plates, which leads to poor time management and distractions. There’s always another task to do or fire to put out, and they often take up time and attention away from more important tasks — like serving clients or strategizing the growth of the business.
Research found that 84% of business owners work more than 40 hours a week, and one in 10 continuously feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities. The study also found that time management was the biggest productivity challenge for business owners.
The purpose of this post is to highlight the numerous distractions that small business owners face and how they can conquer it all by being time management savvy. We’ll dive into the common reasons behind low productivity and offer techniques, mindset shifts, and tools you can use to free yourself from distractions and get more important things done.
What is small business productivity?
It’s difficult to coin the perfect definition of small business productivity because every entrepreneur has their own path. A productive and successful day for one business owner may look different from another’s.
That being said, small business productivity means improving your business operations and getting maximum output from your efforts. For business owners, small business productivity can mean many different things:
It can mean saving enough time to be able to focus on the most crucial bits of your business.
It can mean having better control of your day-to-day workflow. It can mean having the ability to automate everyday tasks and processes. It can mean running an efficient and functional business without roadblocks. But most importantly, it means the ability to avoid burnout, despite the cutthroat competition.
Bottom line? To achieve peak productivity levels, one needs to be time savvy. But how do you — the wearer of many hats — achieve this mammoth task when you are surrounded by umpteen distractions?
Thankfully, we have a few time management methods and tool suggestions that can help you achieve peak zen (or something closer) in your workday.
Read along to plan your day, week, and month effectively!
4 methods to enhance productivity for your small business
Increasing your productivity starts with shifting your existing mindset and habits. While there are plenty of tools out there to help you get more things done (and you’ll learn about them in a bit), you must first examine and improve your work practices so you can truly maximize your productivity.
1. Decision, discipline, and determination
There’s an old saying that goes something like “if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day.”
In his book Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracey builds on this concept by teaching readers how to organize and prioritize their tasks each day. According to him, the most challenging item on your to-do list represents your frog and you need to accomplish it before getting to the other tasks.
Tackling your most difficult task is, by definition, not easy, and this is where decision, discipline, and determination come into play. When crafting your to-do list, the first thing you need to do is to prioritize your tasks and decide on the order in which you’re going to complete them.
Tracey suggests using the ABCDE method.
- “A” tasks are your most important and challenging tasks that when completed, will have the greatest impact on your business. These tasks are your frogs.
- “B” tasks are items you should do, but they don’t have as big of an impact as the “A” items.
- “C” tasks have no impact. They’re nice to do, but they have very little (if any) effect on your business.
- “D” tasks are to-dos that you should delegate.
- “E” tasks are things that you should eliminate altogether.
When you’re looking at your to-do list each day, label each item with a letter and commit to doing your “A” tasks before anything else.
From there, you need to practice discipline to stick with those tasks and not let yourself get distracted by B, C, D, and E items. This also requires determination. Tackling big, critical jobs isn’t a walk in the park, so find ways to fuel your determination so you can see those tasks through.
2. Break up your tasks
Having important to-dos and goals are great, but they can also lead to overwhelm. When you’re looking at a seemingly giant task, you may start to feel like it’s too much to handle and you end up procrastinating or abandoning the job.
If you find yourself down this path, it helps to break down your goals or tasks into smaller jobs. For example, if the task is “build a website”, break it down into small and specific steps.
Instead of building the website, you could write:
- Find a hosting provider
- Write copy for the homepage
- Find images
Structuring your task list in this way makes things more manageable, so you can take action rather than dwell in overwhelm.
It also helps to apply this same principle to your time each day. Break up your day into chunks by allocating a number of minutes to work and then follow this up with a short break.
Consider using the Pomodoro Technique, a time management system introduced by Francesco Cirillo that involves breaking your workday into 25-minute chunks and then having five-minute breaks in between. The Pomodoro Technique adds structure to your day and encourages you to focus. The built-in breaks ensure that you don’t burn out.
Implementing this technique may help you get more things done. When you contain a task into a 25-minute chunk, you’re essentially conditioning your mind to work on the task at hand during that given time, so you’re more likely to complete it.
3. Change only 1% every day
When you start learning new productivity techniques or tools, it’s tempting to implement everything ASAP. But this practice can do more harm than good. Modifying habits isn’t easy, so if you try to change too many things too quickly, you are less likely to stick to your new practices.
Rather than trying to overhaul your entire work life in one fell swoop, strive to make small improvements over time. Recognize that major changes are a result of consistently taking tiny steps in the right direction.
This is called The 1 Percent Rule. James Clear, the author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits, writes: “The 1 Percent Rule states that over time the majority of the rewards in a given field will accumulate to the people, teams, and organizations that maintain a 1 percent advantage over the alternatives. You don’t need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to be slightly better.”
Follow this same principle in your productivity journey. Instead of making big, bold changes overnight, commit yourself to small, sustainable improvements over the long term.
4. Prioritize what adds value to you
As a small business owner, it’s too easy to get caught up in all the to-dos and chores each day. As a result, you may lose sight of the things that would truly impact your business.
Prevent that by regularly evaluating your tasks and by thinking about the outcomes that you want to achieve.
Rather than having tunnel vision on the things you need to do, take a step back and ask yourself, “What is the outcome that I want to get out of this?”
In doing this exercise, you may realize that some of the things on your list can actually be eliminated or delegated. Let’s say your outcome is to grow your foot traffic by 20%. With this goal in mind, you may find that some of the tasks on your list — like organizing your stockroom or finding a new vendor — don’t actually contribute to your main goal.
With this in mind, you can decide to postpone or delegate the other tasks and focus on traffic-generating activities like sprucing up your window display or running a promotion.
A great way to stay organized is to use a priority matrix. There are a number of productivity matrices out there, but one of the most effective ones is the Eisenhower Matrix. Created by former President Dwight Eisenhower, this tool helps you categorize different to-dos based on their urgency and importance.
The matrix consists of four quadrants:
Urgent and important. These are high-impact tasks that need immediate attention. An example could be that you have a VIP customer coming in the next day, and you need to prepare for their visit.
Urgent and unimportant. These are tasks that need immediate attention but don’t have a major impact on your outcomes. These are jobs that are best delegated to someone else. One example is cleaning and store maintenance.
Important, but not urgent. These are tasks that can significantly impact your outcomes, but they don’t have an immediate deadline. Examples are redesigning your website or conducting a competitor analysis. Because they’re not urgent, it’s tempting to postpone these tasks, so you need to make sure that they’re scheduled on your calendar.
Unimportant and not urgent. These tasks are neither important nor urgent, so it’s best to eliminate them altogether. Examples include watching TV, catching up on gossip, etc.
Classifying all your tasks into these four quadrants gives you clarity into which jobs truly add value to your business. This matrix will also enable you to decide on the tasks that need your personal attention versus the ones you should delegate.
4 time management tools to save hours in your workday
Achieving peak small business productivity shouldn’t cost you an arm and leg. Here are four time management tool types for you to test:
Scheduling and online booking tools
If you run a service-based business where clients have to book appointments (e.g., you have a salon or spa), then appointment scheduling is a task that’s both urgent and important.
However, appointment scheduling is a tedious process. When done manually, it requires back and forth coordination and involves entering times and dates by hand. Manual appointment scheduling can be tiresome, and you’ll be much better off using online booking tools that can automate the process.
Not to mention, many clients appreciate the ease of booking online. Research from Genbook found that online booking is the prefered method of clients, with 44% saying that if all booking options were available, they would choose to schedule appointments online.
So, equip your business with online scheduling software that turns appointment booking into a self-service process for your clients.
There are plenty of solutions in the market, each with its own sets of features, but generally speaking, a good online booking platform:
- Enables you to set up up a booking portal for clients
- Sends automatic confirmations and reminders to ensure that clients don’t miss their appointments
- Syncs with your calendar and prevents double-booking
Using scheduling software in your business will free up your time, so you don’t have to manually manage your calendar and appointments. This means you can devote more of your energy to high-level tasks that make a tremendous impact on the outcomes you want to achieve.
Project management tools meant for small businesses
Delegation is a major part of small business productivity and it’s something that you must do to free up time and energy.
But if you’re managing a team, then delegation itself can be a time-consuming task. Assigning jobs, communicating instructions, and tracking progress can take up a tremendous amount of effort. And if you’re using inefficient tools to do the above, you end up wasting your time — which defeats the purpose of delegation.
Prevent this by using a project management tool that keeps all stakeholders and to-dos in one place. That way, you won’t have to waste time digging through your inbox or manually checking in. With the right project management software, you can do everything on one platform.
Here are some key features to look out for when choosing your project management tool:
- Lets you add team members to the workspace so you can all work using the same tool
- Has built-in communication features that enable you to share info, ask questions, and attach documents
- Has tools for tracking progress and deadlines (e.g., calendars, alerts, checklists, etc.)
Remember, delegating should free up time, not create more to-dos. A project management tool helps you and your team stay on the same page, so everyone can focus and complete the right tasks.
Whenever possible, automate manual tasks in your business. The automation tools you need will depend on your day-to-day work life, but a good way to figure this out is to identify the things that you’re doing by hand.
Are you still writing things down yourself? Do your systems require you to re-enter your information from one database to another?
These are some of the questions that can shed light on what areas to automate in your business.
If you’re still managing your client appointments by hand, then adopting an appointment scheduling software can streamline this process. Or perhaps you’re already using a number of business apps but find yourself having to transfer information from different applications. Maybe you have to import your sales data from your POS system into your accounting software.
In such cases, you’d benefit from connecting different applications so that information is automatically synced. While many software solutions can connect with each other directly, others require integration tools so that different apps can start talking to each other.
The right setup depends on your business and existing software, so examine your tech stack and figure out the best way to automate everything.
Marketing is a broad topic and there are a variety of tools in the market that can help you generate visibility and exposure for your business. Consider the following:
Social media. If your business has a presence on sites and apps like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, do yourself a favor and arm your biz with a social media management platform that can automate tasks like scheduling posts and adding hashtags.
Doing so will help you maintain your profiles without spending too much time on the tedious components of social media management.
Email marketing. Need to stay in touch with your clients or potential customers? Use email marketing tools to do so. In addition to streamlining data collection, most email tools allow you to personalize your messages based on subscriber contact details and behaviors.
Some tools can even segment your subscribers for you and optimize the scheduling of your messages, so you can automatically send the right emails at the right time.
SEO. If search engine optimization is part of your marketing strategy, then you know that there’s a lot of work involved. You need to do keyword research, evaluate the competition, and more.
Having a solid SEO tool can make these tasks a lot easier. There are a number of platforms that can automatically generate keyword lists and shed light on what your competitors are doing, so you don’t have to spend too much time analyzing search volumes and difficulty.
Operating a small business is challenging and it’s the distractions that keep entrepreneurs away from achieving their highest potential. Multitasking is great, but not when you have to do it every day. If you are battling time management, the aforementioned tools and productivity tips will help you a great deal.