Being a small business means you have to compete with the big guns, so that means you have to be organized, streamlined, and efficient if you’re going to survive. You want to be at maximum productivity at all times, and while it looks like a difficult task, it’s more than achievable with the right plan of action.
First let’s talk about the mindset for efficiency, then cover tools and apps that can improve efficiency last.
Mindset for Efficiency
Operating with a sense of purpose is key for your business to be efficient. Whether you are a employee, HR manager, or founder, you will be setting the tone for the culture of the company in some fashion. It all starts with the right mindset.
Understand Your Top Priority
In his book Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg talks about setting a stretch goal, something that’s inspiring. In this case, it’s helpful to look at it as a priority. You can do this for yourself and it also works for a team or even a company. Personally, I look for one to three things that I want to accomplish each day as a way to guide my productivity.
For example, Charles cited that he actually created stretch goals to actually write the book – after all writing a New York Times best sellers is a big task! GE also used the same stretch goal concept for triggering innovation and motivation.
It’s overwhelming to actually face a stretch goal and figure out how to do it. But if you break it down into steps, then you can tackle it one step at a time.
Understand the Steps to Reach the Top Priority
Once you breakdown the steps of any complex series of tasks, it looks simpler and less daunting. And if you use the SMART goal system, then you’re for more likely to be able to achieve your goals.
SMART stands for:
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Achievable
- R – Realistic
- T – Timeline
Simply using the SMART goal method can make a massive improvement in productivity at your company. Measuring output or other metrics (as part of the specific and measurable components) can spur greater productivity by itself.
Look at your top priority and match up a SMART goal to go along with it. The results can be astonishing when you pair up a stretch goal with SMART goals to map out the plan the stretch goal
Don’t Waste Time
Take into account what wastes the majority of your time. Is checking your Facebook or reading interesting but admittedly not relevant articles distracting you?
Set out a strict schedule for when you’re working and when you have some downtime. If you’re working at home, it’s very easy to get sidetracked. Make sure your family and friends respect your work time and don’t disturb you.
Don’t Let People Distract You
Another time waster might come in the form of people. It’s easy to be bombarded by visitors or clients who might take up any valuable time from your busy day. Unless they’re bringing something to the table, then you need to set some ground rules.
Establish a time frame in which you can see clients or guests, and make sure they know your schedule. If it’s a friend asking for a favor, and you absolutely have no time, then don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
That’s not to say that you should go completely cold, of course. That would make working dull, but it’s fine to protect your most productive hours for you most intensive work. Plus, it’s always good to be owed a favor for when you’re in a pinch.
Tools For Efficiency and Productivity
Once you’ve identified which parts of the day are taken up by the necessary and unnecessary, look at how you are best going to act upon them with the tools available.
Use Canned Responses for Email
It may seem quite trivial, but in the end it will save you a lot of time with your daily procedures. It’s said that email is one of the major reasons for poor productivity. It feels like you’re getting a lot done if you send a lot of emails, but most of the time you’re just busy without moving the needle on the important stuff.
Here’s how you can speed up your email processing speed. If it takes you minutes to compose an email that you send out regularly, don’t just copy and paste it. Instead, you should use “canned responses” in your email. Outlook and Gmail have extensions that work great and they can save you precious minutes each day.
Within your inbox settings, the “Labs” tab has a goldmine of add-ons that you can install, allowing you to enable little gadgets that can help you save time. You can enable Canned Responses in that section of Gmail.
Boomerang is not in your “Labs” tab, but it is a fantastic addition that you can install in no time that will revolutionize your emails. It reminds you if someone hasn’t replied to your email after a certain amount of time, which is easily forgettable, and it also let’s you send an email at a scheduled time!
Gone are the days of looking antisocial by sending those emails at 10pm on a Saturday night, and you can make a good estimate when you think your recipient is most likely to read that email. If you use Outlook, then you can schedule your emails to be sent at a specific time as well.
Use Shortcuts for Your Apps
If you’re already a master of your own self-control and such distractions aren’t a problem for you, then take into consideration what activities consume the best part of your time. Do you know all of the shortcuts to the programs you use the most?
If you copy and paste a lot then you know that “control-c” and “control-v” are essential, but there are shortcut keys for all sorts of procedures in just about all your desktop and web-based apps. You can usually find all the short cut key combinations in the user guide and documentation for the application.
Use a Password Management Tool
Similarly, with passwords, consider having your computer remember some of your passwords for accounts that don’t contain any valuable information. That way you don’t have to constantly look up what password gets you into which account.
I use an online application called LastPass and it works great. LastPass and similar tools also force you to use secure, long passwords – not something people can guess.
Your web browser will also remember passwords for you, but I prefer a standalone tool like LastPass for added security. In addition, the best password apps will have a web, browser, tablet, and smart phone version so you have access on any device.
Read Documents in Your Down Time
Organizing papers and general reading is time consuming, and if you have to do a lot of it for work, then use your spare time wisely. That doesn’t mean your spare time that’s earmarked for down time.
It’s the time spent during your commute to and from work, or during your coffee break. Scan any documents using a scanner app, and then use your trusty e-reader or tablet to get that essential reading done during those boring subway journeys. Also, once you’ve scanned those documents and you’ve made a safe copy of it, shred them and recycle them.
Apply your streamlining campaign to your papers and documents about your office. File away your important ones, and discard the ones you don’t really need. Clutter and untidiness are usually a distraction you can do without.
Use Standard Operating Procedures
Make sure you enable your staff works to be efficient too. One of the best ways is to use the same methods of communication and apps. That means everyone using the same email provider, the same word processor, and the same watermarks or logos, etc.
Establishing a standard will prevent any confusion, and make it easier in the long run once you have new members of staff.
Keep Your Team Happy
When streamlining and maintaining efficiency, don’t sacrifice your staff’s happiness for it. If you are going to go down this route, then remember to keep your staff in the loop about the overall plan and why you are introducing these new ideas. Take their input as needed to get to the right solution.
Don’t forget to keep them enlightened at all stages, so that they feel part and parcel of the communication within your business.
As well as this, reward your team whenever possible with simple gestures. Cost-effective, fun activities outside of work are a great way of boosting morale, and it means you don’t necessarily have to resort to raises nor bonuses if the budget doesn’t permit.
Survival is hard if you’re an entrepreneur and more so if it’s just you on your own. But if you work hard and keep a tight ship, then you should be looking at coming out on top.
Doug Cunnington is a small business owner and writes at Business Credit Workshop and Niche Site Project. He’s passionate about helping people fund their small businesses with best practices.