By Kristen Gramigna
Owning a small business often means working long hours with lean resources, but integrating efficiencies into your processes can ensure that every moment you spend working has real value. Here are some time-saving tips all small business owners can put into action.
Plan your day with detail. Though creating a to-do list can help you remember what you must achieve for the day, it lacks one key detail: How your time will be allocated. Replace your basic task list with a productivity technique called “time boxing.” When you create your prioritized to-do list for the day, assign start and end times to each task; be sure to include all the tasks that require time, including reviewing sales and inventory reports, eating lunch, taking trips to the water cooler, printer and restroom, plus travel time for your commute.
Use your computer or smartphone to set alarms that audibly signal the start and end times for each task. When the “stop” alarm sounds, make a choice: Either move on to the next scheduled task on your list or reschedule the rest of your day accordingly so you can complete the task at hand.
Successful time boxing will help you create a feasible and productive daily schedule that results in prioritized use of your time, and, ideally, enhanced task completion. The more you do it, the more you’ll gain a realistic sense for how your workday is spent, allowing you to determine if your processes (and prices) are aligned with the time various projects require.
Make your breaks productive. Productivity experts typically support the idea of focusing on one task at a time to avoid multitasking — doing a little bit of everything, but not completing much. However, there is evidence to suggest that multitasking during workday breaks leads to improved productivity. In the May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, Portland State University professor Charlotte Fritz shared findings of research indicating that taking “microbreaks” that are unrelated to work actually disrupts focus and drains mental energy. When you want a cup of coffee or a quick walk outside for some fresh air, grab someone on your staff to chat about the status of a pressing project, check emails or use the time to return client calls. When your break keeps your mind on work in some way, you’ll have an easier time shifting gears when it’s time to return to business.
Automate repeating tasks. Examine your processes to identify where you can reduce the amount of effort you spend on redundant but necessary business tasks. For example, create email templates you can copy and paste into messages to reduce the amount of time it takes to respond to common inquiries. Leverage a Web-based accounting system that allows you to automate recurring invoices and edit past invoices to minimize the data entry and preparation time associated with invoicing. If you don’t yet accept multiple forms of payment, equipping your businesses website with a payment gateway allows you to securely accept customer credit or debit cards to reduce the amount of time you spend processing payments and depositing checks at the bank.
Share your calendar. Incorporate an online calendar plug-in to your website that allows co-workers, clients and vendors to view when you’re available to meet based on your online calendar. Not only does sharing such information reduce back-and-forth conversations associated with coordinating schedules, many plug-ins allow you to predetermine available meeting locations based on where you’ll be at various times of the day, for maximized efficiency.
Set visual boundaries. If you work in a space with heavy foot traffic and/or a “bullpen” style environment, the people who work alongside you can erode your productivity unintentionally. Set boundaries for when you’re available to converse using visual cues, like a red octagon (for “stop”) taped onto your laptop, door or partition wall that signals when you are not to be disturbed. Encourage your employees to adopt this method as well to help improve their productivity. Additionally, consider using earphones to listen to soothing “white noise” that can block out basic distractions like clicking keyboards, text message pings and ringing phones.
Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry working with small business owners in order to increase their productivity and development.