Having worked with business owners for many years, there’s a myth I’d like to bust: the one that says managing a small company is simpler than managing a large one. Small businesses have to worry about all the same processes and procedures as their bigger counterparts — the difference is that they have to do it all with far fewer people. For small businesses, productivity is a key differentiator in the daily charge towards success.
We tend to treat productivity and efficiency as if they’re synonymous, but they’re not. As workplace productivity expert Michael Mankins explains, efficiency is doing the same with less, while productivity is doing more with the same. Pushing for efficiency puts the squeeze on your team members and takes a toll on their energy, enthusiasm and the overall quality of their work; enabling productivity, however, means tapping the skills and strengths your team already has to accomplish superior work.
As it stands, most small and medium-sized businesses are lagging behind in terms of productivity — and to a surprising extent. On average, employees at small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are productive for about 15 percent to 20 percent of the workday; the rest of their time is punctuated by minor distractions, busy work and organizational drag. Small businesses face the added challenge of employees wearing multiple hats: while larger companies can assign specific tasks to specific titles, smaller organizations may see a single manager trying to arrange schedules, merchandise product and provide customer service. This level of job crossover can hamper productivity.
All small business owners need to ask themselves how they can help their teams become more effective at work. Here are some of my favorite tips for accelerating your productivity.
First and foremost is organization, and you can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned to-do list. In the morning, write out your priorities as a set of actionable goals — or better yet, create your list before you go to bed the night before, so that you can make the most of your workday. And while your to-list should include minor tasks that you don’t want to forget — like returning that call or replying to that email — place an emphasis the major projects that are really moving your company forward. Tools like Evernote and Wunderlist are not only great ways to get your life in order, they also enable you to synchronize your to-dos with your teams’ priorities.
Another way to avoid getting hung up on smaller tasks is to delegate effectively. You can help your core team stay as productive as possible by leveraging freelance talent and outsourcing smaller processes and assignments. Platforms like Upwork and Toptal exist to connect businesses with contract talent. There’s also a good chance you have up-and-coming staff who are eager to prove themselves with expanded roles. Delegating can become a chance for your team to advance into new responsibilities that they’re genuinely excited about.
Some people claim that our constant bombardment with emails, social media, entertainment and take-home work is making us better multitaskers. This is unlikely. Studies show that our brains simply aren’t meant for it: when we’re trying to do a hundred things at once, we don’t perform any of them at our best. Eliminating distractions for yourself and your employees is a huge productivity step forward. If you struggle with unplugging, test logging out of email and ignoring your texts for two hours each day, and see where it takes you. Encourage your team to follow suit, and block time without meetings so employees can focus for long stretches.
Also, work from home once in a while — and as a business owner, allow others to do the same. Creating a flexible office dynamic provides your team with options for managing their schedules, and offers the added benefit of lower employee turnover. Empowered, grounded team members contribute to higher productivity across the board.
Technology provides plenty of opportunities to boost your productivity, both in terms of organizing your workload and achieving long-term goals. It’s amazing how much more you can accomplish when your time-consuming minor tasks are automated.
Microsoft has been hard at work making software that enhances employee productivity. Windows 10 comes with tools and applications that adapt to personal styles and preferences. Office 365 provides interfaces that make multitasking much less stressful: its browser includes built-in homepage access, so that your Office documents are always available. Innovative displays let you manage multiple apps at once. If Microsoft’s Cortana is your go-to digital assistant, then here’s some good news: it integrates seamlessly with your Office apps.
Looking to hire? Post your next opening on ZipRecruiter. Need to streamline your bills? Quickbooks is a straightforward solution. Keeping track of everyone’s hours? Toggl provides an effective time tracker tool and analytics platform so you can see the time put into each project. And for coordinating those projects, there are handy solutions like Asana and Trello — programs that let you lay out your tasks on a convenient calendar and share them with others.
Of course, there will be problems that even the best software can’t eliminate — the background noise in your open concept office space, for example, or the two hundred tabs open on your computer screen — and in these cases, the best solution is hardware. Giving employees a second desktop monitor gives them a more flexible working arrangement, and there’s nothing like noise-canceling headphones to help shut out the din of a busy office.
There’s no need to overhaul the way you do business in order to augment your team’s productivity: transforming your work culture doesn’t have to be forced and it doesn’t have to be fast. It doesn’t even have to be especially focused. You can implement changes incrementally based on your employees’ needs and feedback, and take a trial-and-error approach to evolving your small business’ productivity solutions. And if another business has a model that you believe could work for your company, then by all means make it your own. Before you know it, you’ll have a system in place that optimizes productivity for your small business.
Have ideas about how your small business can go from busy to booming? Need a hand setting up your processes? One of our small business advisors is ready to help.