productivity tips for small business owners

A ruthless approach to productivity: 8 tips for overwhelmed small business owners


For most small business owners, there’s never enough hours in the day. We work long days, catch up in the evenings after the kids are in bed, we exercise less, we eat poorly, and the cycle continues.


There are no two ways about it; if you want to get the most out of your working day, you’ve got to be ruthless. And you’ve got to figure out what’s critical, what’s not and what tasks are going to add the most value to your business.


It’s time to get realistic about what you can achieve on any given day. And get brutal about how you go about achieving these things.


8 brutal truths to getting it all done


1. ‘Must do’ versus ‘Nice to do.’

At the end of each day, take 5 minutes to write down what you need to get done the following day. At the top of the list are critical tasks you must get done. Below these are the ‘nice to dos’. This method stops you sitting down at your desk and wondering what to do first or what you should be doing next. Focus on tackling the hardest tasks at the start of the day when you have the most energy. Even if you achieve only the ‘must do’ tasks, you’ve made positive progress that day. In the afternoons, you can fill time between meetings or appointments with the ‘nice to dos’- usually the tasks that require less concentration and are generally more enjoyable.


2. Exercise

Exercise is critical to productivity. When we don’t take the time to get our heart rates up and move our bodies, our brains also become sluggish and demotivated. Without exercise, you won’t be tackling the most important tasks on your list with any sort of gusto or enthusiasm. Get up and get moving for 30 minutes every morning. Once you start, you’ll wonder what you ever did before.


3. Set your morning routine in stone

Along with exercise, a rock solid morning routine will set you up for success. If you start your morning productively, the rest of the day tends to follow suit. (Or you won’t go into meltdown when it doesn’t!) This means getting out of bed when your alarm goes off instead of pressing snooze three times. Those extra 30 minutes of snoozing means you’ve missed your opportunity to exercise or have a decent breakfast, and you’ll be chasing your tail to get ready, get dressed and get out the door. If you commit to getting up at the same time every day, with ample time to prepare a nutritious breakfast, exercise, get yourself organised and out the door with a buffer of time to get to where you need to go- by the time you make it to work, you’ll be in the right headspace and have the right attitude to tackle the day. As opposed to rushing down to the café on the corner for a double shot latte and chocolate muffin.


4. Be ruthless with your emails

Emails take up considerable time, effort and energy to keep on top of. And every time an email alert comes through, you switch your focus and lose productivity in the task you were doing. This could happen 50-100 times a day for most small business owners. Furthermore, if someone sends a lengthy email, it doesn’t mean you have to respond in kind. Keep it short, sharp and to the point. If you can’t answer it in 4-5 sentences, pick up the phone and sort it out that way. Don’t waste 20-30 minutes crafting and re-reading emails throughout the entire day. Treat your email as an SMS and move on to the next.


5. Stop multitasking

Keep a notepad on your desk or open the notes or sticky notes app on your computer to write down all the little things that you remember you need to do throughout the day. Booking the Foxtel guy for next week, paying your phone bill, sending flowers to your mum, ordering your groceries online are all things we remember we need to do that will break our productivity if we do them then and there. Write down these life admin tasks for later, so you don’t forget. Come back to them when your most productive work hours are behind you. On the topic of multitasking, when you’re focused on one task, don’t switch to another while you’re waiting for a file to download, a browser to open, etc. Multitasking is hugely inefficient no matter how brilliant you think you are at switching back and forth between tasks. One thing at a time. It’s that simple.


6. Turn off your notifications

This goes for everything – social media, emails, mobile phone alerts, Twitter notifications – just let it go. You don’t need to know exactly what’s happening every second of the day. Believe me; it can wait. Your inbox will always be there waiting for you; your Instagram feed will be fine if you check in only at the end of the day. I assure you there is nothing life-threatening happening online that you need to be aware of. If something is urgent, someone will call you. So turn off every pop-up, alert, notification across all your devices and get on with the important stuff.


7. Take a lunch break

Woah! What a novel concept. Taking a break for lunch is not supposed to be a luxury. It needs to be a priority. 15 minutes to step away from your desk, get some fresh air, clear your head and fuel your body with something nutritious. Step away from the screens, leave your phone on your desk and just take a moment to reconnect with the day. Do you have more than 15 minutes? Radical though but why not read a book or the newspaper. Or take a brisk walk around the block. Your afternoon will be far more productive if you give yourself permission to step away from your desk at lunch.


8. Avoid Meetings

Don’t get caught up having meetings for meeting’s sake. This is doubly important if this meeting entails traveling to see someone. Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Uber Conference – all reliable and free software which allow you to have a meeting with anyone, any time, any place. For times you have to meet in person, make sure the other party knows a definite end time and that you need to stick to the agenda agreed beforehand. For your internal teams, don’t schedule meetings that can be summarised in an email.


There you have it. It may not be a method to winning friends, but as small business owners, we are stretched further and further to get our work done. There’s no room to be apologetic with your time.

Stick to the eight tips above and see how they work for you. We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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