Have you ever had a day when you were crazy busy but still felt like you didn’t get anything important done? If you spent most of the day attending meetings, answering emails, or doing administrative work, you probably didn’t get a chance to focus on high-effort, high-impact tasks.
If you feel you too often find yourself spending a big part of your days on low-impact tasks, it’s time to explore new ways to stay productive. At the end of the day, the quality of the tasks you approach and size of the problems you solve will dictate how much money your business brings in.
Low-impact tasks, like meetings and staying on top of correspondence, can provide a break from high-concentration work, allowing you to get back to your desk refreshed and more productive. However, they can also quickly get out of hand. In 2014, consultants from Bain & Company made a chilling discovery about how much time can be wasted with meetings.
In analysing the schedules of the employees of a large company, they found out that a single weekly meeting was taking up 300,000 hours every year. 300 thousand hours! Just imagine what the company would have achieved if the employees had spent those 300,000 hours working on important tasks! And what about email? A 2015 study concluded that workers at companies with 1000+ employees spend 40 per cent of their time on "meetings, administrative tasks, and 'interruptions'."
1. Make sure you are using existing software efficiently
Everyone uses programs such as Microsoft Excel, but few of us know how to use them efficiently. The vast majority of Excel users will happily waste hours a day conducting repetitive tasks and never question what they’re doing. If you don’t have an Excel prodigy on your team, you may want to consider the ROI you would get from hiring a part-time consultant. Companies such as Excel4Business will pair you with an Excel consultant to help you automate processes, solve one-off problems or provide training to save you hours every week.
2. Optimize your sales efforts
If you took a hard look at your sales process, what would you find? Is it lean and efficient or do you often find yourself inundated in unqualified leads, forgetting to schedule follow-ups, confused by analytics, or losing track of prospective customers at the top of the funnel?
Luckily, great software exists to address all of these problems. Take a look at this list of the best lead management solutions for 2016. If you don’t feel like installing and adapting to new software, HubSpot’s free CRM for small businesses would be a simple solution to help you keep track of your interactions with clients.
3. Keep your team updated
Remember the company that wasted 300,000 on a single weekly meeting? People often don’t realise that meetings should be used for discussing possible solutions, not giving information. If you feel that you waste hours every week updating your team members on what you’ve been up to or keeping track of overlapping deadlines, try Asana, a project management tool that helps you organize projects, allocate tasks and track progress in real time.
4. Make emailing easier
Sorting through email can be a slog. Remembering when to follow up, finding out if your email was ever opened, sending emails at the best time of the day – who can keep track? Actually, Followup.cc, a Gmail plugin, can.
This tool will send you notifications if someone has opened your email, send you reminders for follow-ups, and control when your messages land in someone’s inbox. If you think that sending emails in the middle of the night is unprofessional (not to mention annoying), you can just use Followup’s Send Later function. Draft your emails whenever you get to it, and schedule them to be sent out at 7:30 am the next day
5. Create an internal wiki
Few things are more annoying that being interrupted from an important task by someone asking you a question – especially if it’s something you’ve already answered several times before. If you’ve been through this, it’s time to develop an FAQ section for your business. You should have this in place for your customers, but it’s equally useful for team members. A workplace wiki should include things like shared logins, images for marketing purposes, templates for invoices and contracts, shared logins and more. It can be a simple Google Doc, as long as it’s easily searchable.
If you often find yourself explaining how a piece of software works, you can use a simple tool like Camtasia to record yourself while you explain. You can share the resulting training videos with new team members and even kill two birds with one stone by leveraging the videos on social media.
6. Keep social media from taking over your life
Social media can be fun, but when you’re using it for business it can easily take up hours every day. A tool like Hootsuite will save you lots of time and energy. You just need to create a post once and use the platform to control when to publish it and on what platforms.
7. Change your habits
The tools above could save you hours at work every day, but they won’t help your productivity unless you make some behavioral changes as well. The best habits to boost productivity include: check what your priorities are before starting work, don’t read emails first thing in the morning, lump similar tasks together, make sure you set aside two to four hour slots of uninterrupted time for tasks that require concentration, stop using your devices just before going to bed and, of course, get enough sleep. Technology can boost your productivity, but only if you learn how to prioritize and take care of yourself first.