As a business owner, tasks and deadlines are being hurled at you all day. Your phone continuously rings, emails incessantly flow into your inbox, and a member of your staff has “just one quick question” just about every 30 minutes.
So how are you expected to stay focused? How can you possibly achieve the necessary—but elusive—balance between being productive and communicating with the world away from your desk?
Here are five inexpensive ways to improve your productivity and focus:
Let’s face it: Not every task desperately needs to be completed right this second. But when the stack of papers is mounting, the inbox is full, you have ten voicemails, and you haven’t even finished your first cup of coffee, prioritizing can seem nearly impossible. Email devours times in a way that totally diminishes its original purpose: a brief, easy way to send messages. With so many people now using it as their primary mode of communication, a trickle has become a deluge in the business world. It’s crucial to manage the time you spend putting up the floodgates.
Set aside, at most, an hour and a half first thing in the morning, an hour after lunch, and up to two hours at the end of the day to respond to people’s emails. Prioritize your responses from most urgent to least. And then leave it. Unless an email comes in specifically regarding an emergency—and let’s admit: they’re pretty rare throughout the day—stay away from the inbox, on the computer and the smart phone.
Project management has become big business, but systems exist to help you communicate and manage your staff in addition to your projects, all in a way that requires very little investment. I recommend a system called Zoho, which is free for up to three admin-level users. This web-based, robust little program gives similar systems on Google a run for their money. Most universally practical for businesses are probably the Projects and CRM applications. Each helps organize information and coordinate projects in ways that sending multiple emails back and forth or having endless meetings just never will. You can also invite people outside the business—clients, vendors, etc.—to view the progress of a particular project. The accessibility of the information cuts down on the number of emails and phone calls you’d be fielding. The CRM manages all your contacts, allowing staff to log emails to contacts, attach relevant documents to their contact records, and assign tasks to them. And Zoho integrates with MailChimp, Constant Contact, and other popular email marketing programs.
Perhaps one of the most abused commodities in today’s business world is time. There are people who understand how to respect colleagues’ and clients’ time, and there are others who never will. One way to minimize interruptions is to clearly publicize both your schedule and your availability for your clients and colleagues to see.
Most of us at Today’s Admin help facilitate this by using Tungle, which is a free scheduling service. By signing up for an account, you can then send an email to those with whom you do business, telling them that calls and in-house visits should be scheduled through your online Tungle page. I also put the link to my Tungle in the signature of my emails, as a reminder to people that they can check in on my availability at any time.
Of course, unexpected calls will still come in, but by minimizing these, you stand a better chance of staying on track.
With few exceptions, most business owners don’t have too many surprises pop up during the week. You have a decent idea of what you have in the works over the next few weeks and maybe even months. Nonetheless, it is common for especially one- and two-person businesses to get so wrapped up in day-to-day tasks that planning never happens. These businesses suffer from lack of growth or only see it in short bursts, when the owner takes the time to focus on marketing.
Ensure that you leave yourself plenty of time to complete upcoming projects and goals. You’ll improve the quality of the output because you’re eliminating hasty planning and hurried work. Those involved in the project will benefit from a more steady, regulated approach, over the willy-nilly throwing together of something that needs to be shipped out via FedEx by 5 o’clock today!
It’s what your Type B friends and family have been telling you for years. You’re not super-human. Everything will get done. No need to stress out. If you’re like me, that’s just not possible. And, in fact, you’ve nearly given up on telling those Type B-ers to get lost.
The key is achieving just the right level of stress to keep you motivated without getting so tense that your focus and productivity are disrupted. According to Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute for Stress:
“It’s much like the stress or tension on a violin string. Not enough produces a dull raspy sound and too much an irritating screech or snaps the string—but just the correct degree of stress creates a beautiful tone. Similarly, we all have to find the right amount of stress that permits us to make pleasant music in our daily lives. You can learn how to utilize and transform stress so that it will make you more productive and less self-destructive.”
If you often feel the pressures of the day weighing on you, take a couple 15-minute breaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon just to sit outside in the sunshine, take a walk around the neighborhood, or play with the dog. Force yourself, for just those few minutes, to forget about work. Taking a brief step back will not only improve your perspective on what you’re working on, but also allow you to approach it in a more focused way.
What measures have you found to be useful in improving your productivity throughout the workweek that haven’t been mentioned here?