Efficiency makes or breaks a business, but too much time management advice goes nowhere. That’s why we’ve collected the 10 best research-backed productivity hacks for small business owners. We’ll give you real insight into ways to make the most of the precious resource known as time.
These efficiency hacks focus on growing passion, delegating smarter, and choosing goals that ramp up your efficiency. You’ll also find out why some kinds of work breaks are better than others, and why tracking your time can be a great first step.
1. It’s all about the passion
What can 7 billionaires, 13 Olympic athletes, 239 entrepreneurs, and 29 straight-A students teach you about productivity? New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse
interviewed all those high-flying individuals and found a common theme: passion.
“If you’re passionate,” says Kruse, “you’ve got a furnace inside.” That means when a spare couple of minutes pop up, you’ll use them to get one inch closer to your goals, instead of doom-scrolling the news or watching cat videos on Facebook.
Those little minutes add up. Get your team engaged, too
, by putting them in charge of their own workflows. They’ll get more done and, with less time spent hand-holding them, you will, too.
2. Hire a virtual assistant
There’s a good reason virtual assistants (VA’s) keep gaining in popularity: they work. In a small business, work arrives in feast-or-famine surges, and if you hire for the peaks, you’ll starve through the valleys.
A top-notch VA is one of the best office productivity hacks on the planet. They can be your digital right hand, taking all the non-value-added but necessary chores off your plate.
Hire one for a few hours per week, and you’ll find a growing avalanche of unskilled tasks to give to them. The light bulb will click on. “How did I ever get things done before? These little things were eating all my time!”
To find a good VA you can rely on, we don’t suggest the job-posting route. Instead, think of someone you like, or post in your networking group or on Facebook VA groups
. You can even look on Fiverr
. Ask for references so you find the right fit.
At first, use your VA to triage calls and emails, handle incoming and outgoing invoices, and take care of small, repetitive tasks that don’t add obvious value for your customers. Since you pay by the hour for contract labor, you can scale up or down depending on your workload.
3. Set SMART goals
The first of our small business productivity hacks was all about passion. You can build passion by setting smarter goals, and fewer goals overall.
What are SMART goals
? It stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Motivating smart goals can top up your passion tank
. Then, cut out those tasks that don’t fit your goals. Warren Buffett famously has an “avoid at all costs" list
. He lets himself have five goals at a time, but everything else goes to the avoid list.
When you set just a few engaging goals, they stay top-of-mind where they’ll keep bugging you to act on them. That can give you access to the flywheel effect
. Like a giant, heavy flywheel at rest, it’s hard to make an impact in moving it at first. But as you keep throwing your shoulder into the same few goals, your momentum will pick up. Soon, as it gains speed, nothing will stop it.
4. Delegate more
“My day just died the death of a thousand cuts.
” The little things – the ten thousand things
of Taoism – pop up all day long to keep us from getting work done. This is even more true when working from home, since you now have the added distraction of house chores and kids along with business emails and reminders flashing across your screen to derail your concentration.
puts your skills back where they can do the most good. It frees you up to plan and organize, and it develops employees into a force for efficiency. It keeps you focused on the goals. It creates trust and communication, and it unearths star employees who may have struggled in your shade.
Delegation goes beyond the VA level in Step #2. You can delegate higher-level responsibilities to stakeholders outside your small business or to your employees. Start by sharing the reason
for the task, getting a commitment, and saying “yes” only to add-on tasks you know you can farm out. Just can’t bring yourself to delegate? Join the club, then join a delegation training from the AMA
5. Stop multitasking
“I’m getting ten things done at once!
” Actually, you’re probably not. That’s why focusing on one task at a time is on our list of personal productivity hacks. Doing more tasks simultaneously means getting less done
. In fact, multitasking is the opposite of setting a few SMART goals, and building passion through them. It lets your passion leak out through many tiny holes.
We have one “core” that can only do one job well at a time. Change to a different chore, and there’s some neural housekeeping to do. That takes time. Switch tasks many times and soon your brain spends more energy on switching than on getting those tasks done. So, to accomplish more, do less, but focus like a laser.
6. Take recharge breaks
That fuzzy-brained feeling after hours of solid work without a break is telling you something. Sustained focus exhausts your brain
and saps your productivity. Interestingly enough, when a deadline looms and you feel like you don’t have time to take a break, that’s exactly when you need one. Breaks can help you think more clearly, become more efficient and effective, and even make you better at teamwork. But not all breaks are equal.
- An exercise break like a walk or run, or ten minutes of Thera-Band exercises or calisthenics activity can make you more effective. Getting your body out of your office chair can trigger the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that boosts your cognitive muscle.
- A 20-minute mid-day nap can reset your brain and allow you to refocus on your most important tasks.
- A 20-minute meditation break can give your prefrontal cortex a boost. That’s the part of your brain that helps you make decisions, focus, plan, and discipline yourself. In short, it’s your productivity engine.
To zap procrastination, try using meditation, rest, or exercise to boost your ability to strategize and stay on task.
7. Work in short bursts
Along with regular breaks, short sprints of work are great productivity hacks for small business owners. The jury’s still out on how short these bursts should be, but most experts say to work in blocks of 2 hours
, 90 minutes
, or even 25 minutes
While research shows that attention span is tied more to interest in our task at hand
than a time period, many of us are easily distracted by devices, notifications, and other intrusions into our concentration. To combat this, determine your uninterrupted time allotment, then commit to focused work for that block of time, knowing that you have an upcoming break to grab a snack, check email, or make a phone call.
To give it a try, work 25 minutes with a 5-minute break. Then after four cycles, take a longer 15-minute break. There are some good apps to help you through
, but make sure to silence your notifications.
8. Use calendars and lists strategically
What’s better, a to-do list or a calendar? Time management guru Kevin Kruse and his crowd of billionaires and Olympians say calendars. His deep research shows we do what we schedule, while our to-do lists just cause stress as they get longer. That’s why one of his best corporate life hacks is ditching the list.
- Start with your SMART goals
- Break them into action items
- Put these in your calendar
- As you start each week, make a list of what you’d like to do each day
- Every morning, make a list for the day
- Keep a little list of tiny tasks you're working on right now
Fight to keep things off the list that don’t serve your calendar and goals.
9. Track your time
Where does your time go? Do you know? You may assume that time management is about doing things more efficiently. The real ROI comes from learning where you already spend your time, according to management guru Peter F. Drucker
. About 70% of us don’t track our time
, but it’s the best way to see if you’re creating value or creating waste.
The idea isn’t to shame yourself, but to use the power of “what gets measured gets improved.” Get into the habit of time-tracking, and you’ll naturally gravitate toward value-added activities. If you’re not sure how to start, try a simple spreadsheet you update every hour
, or you may prefer to use an app
10. Use apps
Time management apps simply work.
- Use Trello for a nice small business productivity hack to keep small teams on the path
- Consider using Jira for larger teams
- Slack saves a ton of time on emails, letting you manage multiple teams without wondering where the original thread went
- Some managers swear by Pomodoro apps
Also, platforms like Google Drive can make you more productive, and you can supersize their power with simple office productivity hacks. For instance, use bookmark folders
in Google Chrome or other browsers to keep groups of sites and pages you often visit together. Then right-click the folder’s icon in the browser bar to open the entire group together.
This list of the best productivity hacks for small business offers strategies to get more done with your most precious resource – time. Ramp up your passion, hire a virtual assistant, and work toward fewer goals with less distraction.
Work in short bursts with strategic, mind-enhancing breaks, and track your time to leverage the power of simple metrics. You’ll soon be wondering how you ever got anything done before.
About the Author: Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer for HP® Tech@Work. Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.