If you want tips on how to be more productive, ask any owner of a small- to medium-sized business. They wear many hats — CEO, business development person, marketing person, human resources person, IT guy, and many others — and have probably learned a few ways to streamline their operations and squeeze the most out of their days. Here’s a look at some of the top habits of highly productive professionals.
They prioritize and protect their time.
Highly productive people know where their energy is best spent and can focus their time and attention in that direction. That means they know how to say no, set and maintain boundaries, and delegate tasks that someone else can do. Still working on this? The good news is that skills like prioritizing and setting boundaries are critical to success — and can be practiced and learned.
A good place to start is by familiarizing yourself with Stephen Covey's Time Management Matrix from his landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This post explains the concept in detail, but here are the basics: all of our daily activities can be broken down into four quadrants, by importance and urgency. Highly productive people have learned to effectively divide their time among urgent and important tasks such as deadline-driven projects and responding to crises, and non-urgent but important tasks that pay off in the long run like relationship-building, personal development, and taking care of their health. As much as possible, they eliminate time spent on “busy work” or low-value tasks like surfing the web mindlessly.
They make the most of their time.
Not only do highly productive professionals ruthlessly prioritize and focus their time, but they maximize small pockets of time that other people might waste. For example, they might listen to podcasts during their commute or spend those 10 extra minutes between meetings responding to email.
They’re well organized.
Highly productive people don’t lose valuable time and focus looking for a phone number or a misplaced file. They have systems in place to find what they need when they need it. Mobile apps tailored to your industry can help you stay on top of all sorts of things. If you’re an attorney, for instance, apps can help you track billable hours on the go, or if you manage service workers in the field, job dispatching apps can help you avoid overbooking your team or showing up late for an appointment. Other popular productivity apps for small business owners include the note-taking app, Evernote, and LinkedIn Pulse to stay on top of industry news.
They avoid procrastination and distractions.
Of course, apps, email, and other technology can be distractions rather than productivity tools if you’re not careful. Productive professionals know that sometimes they need to unplug and focus on the task at hand, says Hillary Rettig, productivity coach and author of The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism and Writer’s Block. Do this either by disconnecting your computer from the Internet while you work, or turning off alerts and the ringer on your phone. Make it easy for yourself, advises Rettig, who says “productive people never waste time trying to ‘build their willpower’: they just identify and solve barriers to their productivity.”
They invest in the right tools.
While it may seem practical and prudent to put off spending on better technology, another app, a new website, or other items or services you’ve been holding off on until your business is more successful, this approach could actually be hurting you. Productive people invest in the right resources and tools to propel their businesses to the next level. For example, if you still rely on paper forms to handle things like invoicing, purchase orders, and employee scheduling, you can save time and money by transitioning to mobile forms and a secure cloud-based storage system.
They automate everything possible.
Why spend time on tasks that aren’t really necessary? Technology has made it possible to automate all kinds of daily tasks that can eat up your time — paying bills, collecting payments from customers, sorting and responding to email, posting social media updates, etc. Keep a record of things you normally do daily or weekly, and see if it’s possible to automate any of them. For instance, JOTS Computer Services, Inc. can help you automate your paper forms.