Time is one of the most precious resources on the planet, but most people don’t treat it that way. In business, it’s important to get everything done, but the countless little tasks can be overwhelming. One of the big differences between highly successful entrepreneurs and less successful ones is how they manage their time: the more successful simply place a higher value on time and treat it as the scarce commodity it is.
Getting a handle on how employees spend time in a day may be a first step to creating greater efficiency in a business. One exercise to bring this point home is to track what key job functions do in one day. This may be including details on a calendar, or making a list at the end of the day. Make a note of the hourly market rate of each task. For example, low-level tasks such as, filing, order-taking, order filling, or handling routine customer questions may get a market rate of $15-20/hour. Calling business partners, creating new sales opportunities (but not doing the actual selling), dreaming up new products or services, or restyling a marketing message so that it’s more impactful would be in the $175-200/hour range (or more).
Even without taking time to do the ‘rate-math,’ it’s quite revealing to break the day into percentages of time spent on low-level tasks or distractions vs. the important tasks that move business forward. For highly qualified employees, such as owners and managers, low level tasks stagnate productivity. Such tasks also make people feel stuck, overwhelmed, and burned out. Conversely, time spent on higher level (important and not urgent) tasks is energizing.
Here are 12 tips for increasing productivity:
- Make a plan. Knowing what tasks must be accomplished in a day helps prioritize both expected and unexpected events. Separate tasks into urgent and important – urgent must be done, important can wait.
- Perform the most difficult tasks first. Getting a tough project completed makes other tasks seem small by comparison.
- Beware of the multi-tasking myth. ‘Switching gears’ to do more than one thing at a time is actually more of a productivity killer than helper.
- Just say no. Understand priorities and make decisions carefully before accepting additional commitments that increase time demands.
- Set aside time for reading and responding to emails. Turning off alert sounds helps to minimize distraction. Try to use ‘reply all’ sparingly, and encourage staff to do the same.
- Set a time schedule for meetings, and stick to it. Much time is wasted in meetings that drag on with discussions that are off-topic. Meeting leaders should set up separate times to discuss additional subjects, and not abandon the purpose of the meeting.
- Work offsite if necessary. If a certain task requires concentration, it may be helpful to get away from office distractions.
- Consider a phone call for information instead of email. More emails lead to more time to respond, when sometimes an answer is easier with a conversation, or leaving a voice mail message.
- Keep work areas neat. A messy office or desk creates distractions.
- Create a routine. When certain tasks happen predictably (if that’s possible!), then the routine increases productivity.
- Pay attention to ergonomics. Correct posture and positioning at a desk maintain a healthy body and prevent soreness that can interrupt productivity. There are numerous studies that show standing up while working has both productivity and long-term health benefits.
- Get enough sleep and make time for fun. Having balance in life actually improves productivity during work.
Don’t let distractions inhibit progress. Managing time to focus on important action items keeps business on track toward greater productivity and profitability.