When running a business, the last thing you need is to be bogged down by admin and losing focus on the things that really matter. On the other hand, there’s always so much to deal with and you may not have the support around you to delegate time-consuming tasks.
To be more productive, you have two options: either working more hours or working smarter. I think we all agree on our preferred option here. With this in mind, here are 32 hacks for working more productively.
Before we jump into our list of productivity hacks, let’s address the textbook productivity tip: exercise. We’re all aware that exercise tops the productivity podium, as it increases the blood flow to your brain, making you feel more alert and ready to tackle work projects. Each time you exercise, a complex chemical cascade occurs inside your body, which is responsible for several positive effects on your brain. For example, serotonin is released, helping curb feelings of anxiety and depression, while endorphins block pain and increase sensations of pleasure. A morning workout is a great way to kick-start your working day!
But what are the best hacks for ensuring exercise doesn’t simply become another to-do list commitment that you feel guilty about when you don’t find time for it? (A vicious circle!) This list of productivity hacks is designed to offer tangible takeaways that are simple to introduce into your daily routine, without having to sign up to your first marathon or expensive subscription. Are you ready? Let’s go…
1. Walking meetings. Take a walk with a colleague or team instead of sitting around a table or at a desk. Get your blood pumping at the same time as using your brain – you might encourage a lightbulb moment! Similarly, if it’s a call, could you dial in remotely and talk while you walk?
2. Set small goals. Rather than ‘finish a project’, break it down by the tasks that will get you to this end goal. Ticking smaller tasks off your to-do list more regularly will turn daunting tasks into more achievable ones.
3. Write a to-do list the night before. Know your daily priorities as soon as you sit down to work.
4. Understand the time of day you’re most alert. This is key to tackling the hardest jobs on your to-do list. If you’re a morning person, get started on your biggest tasks first thing in your day before burning out by the afternoon.
5. Take regular breaks. Studies show regular breaks help concentration and boost your mood. Team this with a bit of exercise e.g. walk around your workplace or pop out to grab an energy-boosting smoothie! If you’re working from home, you could even empty the washing machine and feel productive with your housework as well!
6. Set self-imposed deadlines. While stress is considered a bad thing, you can apply a manageable level of it to give yourself focus and help meet your goals. For example, ‘by 3pm today I must send my colleague this article to proofread.’ Work to this deadline – you’ll be surprised how focused and productive it makes you.
7. Implement the ‘two minute rule’. Entrepreneur Steve Olenski recommends this rule in order to make the most of small windows of time that you have at work. If you know a task can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. By doing it then and there, it actually takes less time than coming back to it later.
8. Say no to meetings. Not all discussions have to be in person. Can you achieve the same outcome via email? Over the phone? Or if face-to-face, could it be online via Teams or Zoom? Hefty meetings can drain substantial time from your day – consider a more efficient way to address the reason for meeting in the first place.
9. Hold standing meetings! If it has to be in person, a stand-up meeting can encourage short check-ins rather than lengthy discussions. Let’s not get too comfortable, we have tasks to tick off the to-do list!
10. Stop multitasking. Dispersing your focus across several tasks at once can actually mean you lose time and productivity, than if you were to focus on one task, complete it, then move onto the next. Some research suggests that multitasking can hamper your productivity by reducing your comprehension, attention, and overall performance.
11. Be proactive, not reactive. Don’t let incoming calls and emails dictate your to-do list. Set time aside in your day to respond to emails rather than react to them as they come in. Stick to your to-do list as much as possible. The efficiency you gain from greater productivity will allow you to put out any fires that come up during the day.
12. Turn off notifications. As part of moving away from reactive working, set your phone to ‘do not disturb’ mode for times when you’re focusing on a particular task and ‘pause’ your email inbox to avoid desktop notifications. While as a business owner it’s important to check emails and messages regularly, do this in a way that fits with your work schedule.
13. Consider 90-minute intervals. Humans now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. According to a study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitised lifestyle on the brain. Researchers at Florida State University have found elite performers (from athletes to musicians, to chess players!) who work in uninterrupted intervals of no more than 90 minutes, with breaks in between sessions, worked best for maximising productivity. They also found that they rarely worked more than 4.5 hours in a day. Music to your ears, right? Think about how you could turn your work projects into 90-minute sessions during the day and give it a go!
14. Take time to relax. ‘Strategic renewal’ is a key technique to getting more done. Taking a daytime nap, exercising and taking longer holidays has shown to increase long term productivity.
15. Avoid screen fatigue. Screen fatigue is when the muscles in and around our eyes get worn out and strained, as a result of long periods of looking at a screen without rest. More than a third (38%) of respondents to one survey, carried out for the charity Fight for Sight, said their eyesight had worsened since the start of the pandemic. Help avoid eye strain with the 20-20-20 rule. It’s simple to do. Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20ft away (approx. six metres) for 20 seconds. It stops your eye muscles getting overworked. (BBC News lists four more helpful ways to avoid eye strain in this informative article.)
16. Get some sleep. There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. According to a survey of 7,400 individuals by Harvard University, sleep deprivation costs companies $2,280 per employee, or 11.3 days of productivity, each year. When you sit down for an evening of Netflix, say to yourself it will only be for two episodes. Stick by it and get yourself up to bed for a good night’s sleep. Your to-do list will thank you for it the next day.
17. Move your phone away from your desk. Even if it’s on ‘do not disturb’ mode, it can still be tempting to look at. Out of sight, out of mind.
18. Set a theme for each day. Compartmentalise your tasks by theme e.g. Monday is for business management, Tuesday is for product development, Wednesday is for marketing, etc. If something comes up, you can then process it better by saying to yourself ‘it will be addressed during my marketing day on Wednesday’.
19. Park the perfectionism. While some business matters absolutely require attention to detail, others do not and aren’t worth your time making perfect. Consider the tasks you’re spending your time on – could they fall into a ‘that will do’ category? You’ll be amazed at how much time you save with this approach.
20. Try a yoga class on your lunch break. Many instructors offer online classes. Why not schedule one for you / your employees during lunch time for that much needed stretch out, helping boost energy levels in the afternoon?
21. Learn to delegate. A vital management skill but one of the hardest to put into practice. Having a quick read up online on how to refine these skills (you can find a useful article from Harvard Business School here), will ensure you delegate effectively and start freeing up some of your time to funnel back into your business elsewhere, or use it towards self care activities that will aid your longer term productivity.
Now it’s time for the tech…
22. Create a project management basecamp that can be accessed anywhere. If there’s more than a couple of you working in your business, consider a collaboration tool that will streamline your workflow and improve communication. It moves you away from relying on email to manage projects or any daily work issues that crop up. Need to know a project’s status? Project management software such as Asana, Trello and Monday.com make it easier for your employees to work together, while letting you have a macro view of what’s going on. These tools became essential during the pandemic, as teams figured out a way to work remotely and productively. While many businesses continue to offer working from home days, these tools are only going to grow in usage. Many offer free trials so you can try it out and purchase a subscription if you know it’s a good fit for you and your team. (Some even offer ‘free forever’ packages based on your usage requirements.)
23. Use website and app blocker tools. According to research carried out by RescueTime, the average digital worker can’t go more than six minutes without checking their email or instant messaging. The digital nature of our work and social lives leaves us constantly checking for notifications and this constant distraction hampers our ability to focus on tasks for even short periods of time. There are a number of website and app blocker tools where you can create a list of apps and websites, which will automatically be blocked during work sessions. Examples include Mindful Browsing and StayFocused (available for free within your Chrome browser), Serene and RescueTime. (A great review and comparison article of these tools can be found here.)
24. Regain control of your inbox. Take a look at a tool called Spark, which is an intelligent email client that prevents your inbox from becoming out of control and a constant interruption on your working day. Its Smart Inbox automatically categorises your emails from every account assigned to it, allowing you to filter out the emails that don’t matter and prioritise the ones that do.
25. Set self care reminders on your phone. A basic, but effective way to remind yourself to take breaks, have a stretch, do some exercise, give your eyes a break from the screen – whatever you feel you need to do to have a break and boost your energy levels.
26. Embrace invoicing software. Getting free billing software helps reduce manual entries, enhances accounting accuracy, and saves your business a great deal of time and money. Take a look at our Best Invoicing Apps for Small Business.
27. Schedule your social media posts. Rather than posting in real time, dedicate a specific part of your week to upload social media content to a scheduling tool, where you can set which social account/s the post goes out on, and when. Hootsuite and Buffer are good places to start, while many CRMs such as Zoho and HubSpot also offer social automation. Do keep checking your scheduled posts though in case anything within your business or the news occurs, which might make your posts seem inappropriate in any way. Scheduling tools are not a replacement for community management so make sure to keep tabs on what’s going out, engagement opportunities and any customer service issues that crop up.
28. Let people know when you’re free to talk. Whether it’s updating your status to ‘do not disturb’ on Teams, or going as far as putting a red / green flag on your desk in the office (it’s a thing: luxafor.co.uk), being proactive in avoiding interruptions will make a big impact on your productivity levels. (We’ve rounded up some additional Office Gadgets That Can Help to Increase Productivity.)
29. Take a look at Microsoft 365’s productivity apps. Complementing the rest of Microsoft’s tools such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint, its productivity apps help ‘organise your life’, such as creating to-do lists, organising your ideas in a digital notebook and managing multiple calendars.
30. Check out Google Workspace. Similar to Microsoft 365, it offers a suite of tools to help with productivity. There’s lots of features to take a look at – including an extension that allows you to work offline, while the content syncs on all the devices that you use your account on. A great way to avoid distractions and stay on course.
31. Send a voice message. If you don’t have time for a conversation but need to communicate with a colleague quickly – and it’s quicker to dictate what you mean than lengthy emails – consider sending a voice note. For example on Whatsapp, open up a chat, tap and hold the microphone and start speaking. Once finished, remove your finger from the microphone and your message will automatically be sent.
32. Use Canva design templates. Speed up the design process with this user-friendly and collaborative online graphic design tool. Need to create an image for social media, or a presentation, pronto? Select from a number of pre-designed templates. You can even build your brand guidelines here, so your team knows which colours, fonts etc to use across your business material.
As you can see, there are a number of ways you can effectively structure your time, encourage energy boosts and restrict the amount of interruptions you receive when working. Being more deliberate in how you manage your time will be a gift that keeps on giving – not just for your business’s health, but for yours, too.