Business Insights

9 Productivity Hacks for Busy Small Business Owners

This post was originally published on the PaySimple Blog.

Great small business owners are not only good at what they do, they excel at using their time in the best possible way. From being ruthless about distractions to eliminating busywork, here are our top productivity tips and life hacks for getting things done.

1. Focus on deep work, not shallow distractions.

As a business owner, you’re probably inundated by constant distractions and demands on your time—an email here, paperwork there, phone calls to return, meetings to run, and fires to put out. Even though you’re busy, your time can feel fragmented. And even though you’re exhausted by the end of the day, it can also feel like you haven’t accomplished anything substantial. It’s easy to fritter attention on things that pop up throughout the day without ever getting to the meaningful work that moves your business forward.

Instead of reacting to the random distractions of the day, prioritize deep work. As Cal Newport writes in his book Deep Work, “I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.”

2. Free up your time with technology.

Take a fresh look at the tasks you do day in and day out. Manually invoicing a few customers here and there may not feel like a big deal, but how does that time add up over days, weeks, and months? If you find yourself doing the same tasks each day, there’s probably a tech solution that could do faster, freeing you up for more important things! For example, many businesses that use PaySimple report saving hours on billing and account reconciliation each week.

TIP: For more tech time-savers, check our must-try automation tips as well as our rundown of the 20 must-have apps for entrepreneurs.

3. Mute your device notifications.

Stop the stream of chirps, chimes, and flashing lights coming from your devices. If you want to get good work done, mute your notifications. Research has shown that even a brief interruption, like checking an alert on your phone, can actually cost you several minutes of focus. That’s because each time your work is interrupted by even a minor distraction, it can take your brain 25 minutes to return to its original task. To protect your time, mute notifications and check emails and messages on a regular schedule. Better yet, keep devices out of sight so you aren’t tempted to check them as frequently.

4. Maximize energy by working in 90-minute cycles.

Despite our best efforts, our energy levels just don’t stay constant throughout the day. Instead, we’re always ebbing and flowing between states of mental productivity and rest. Researchers have discovered that these cycles roughly correspond to 90-minute stretches of productive work, followed by a natural dip as our brains take a break and recover. To be productive, don’t fight your body’s natural rhythms: instead, try working in 90-minute increments followed by meaningful breaks. While it’s tempting to plow ahead thinking you’ll get more done that way, you’re actually better off working while at your peak and resting when you aren’t.

5. Take real breaks.

Breaks can feel like a decadent luxury, which is why many business owners gloss over them. Instead of walking away from the computer and taking a real break, they’ll cram free moments with more email or catching up on calls. Why enjoy a coffee in the sunshine or take a walk around the block when you could be getting “real” things done? But although they seem frivolous, breaks actually provide a vital period of recuperation that allows you to get back to work with renewed focus and energy—more than you’d have if you had just worked non-stop.

6. Get more done with the Pomodoro technique.

It’s a simple idea: set a timer for 25 minutes and start working on a task. After the 25 minutes are up, take a 5-minute break. This is the essence of the “Pomodoro technique,” a deceptively simple way to stop procrastinating and get things done. There’s something about doing your work in 25-minute chunks that makes it easier to begin. It’s a way to focus yourself and dive right into your most important tasks without the waffling and avoidance that can often come beforehand.

7. Be smart about meetings.

You’ve probably heard the common grumble, “This meeting could have been an email!” But the reverse is also true: how often have you been sucked into a 25-email group discussion when a 5-minute meeting would have sufficed? Use meetings as a strategic tool deployed to save time and boost efficiency. This means calling quick meetings when it makes sense, and cancelling long-winded meetings when it doesn‘t.

8. Track your time and block distractions.

Use an app to track time spent on productive versus time-depleting tasks. It’s especially hard to be objective about how we spend time online, and you may be taken aback when you see just how much of it is dedicated to reading news sites or checking social media, for example. RescueTime is one of several solutions that exposes where your time goes so you can eliminate your biggest attention black holes. You can also use Freedom to set a time limit for specific sites or block them during periods when you need to focus.

9. Create a great work-from-home routine.

With many of us still working from home, maximizing how we spend our time and how we set up our home environments can make us happier and more productive. To get the most out of your work-from-home routine, check out these essential tips.

Small Tweaks, Big Wins for Your Business

These productivity hacks are quick and easy to implement, but you’ll see that even small tweaks can unlock large pockets of time to boost your business. We all have the same number of hours in a day, but knowing how to use that time well makes all the difference. Here’s to a productive day ahead!

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