Small business owners: Increase productivity and improve your work-life balance
Just because your work is your livelihood, that doesn't mean your work should be your life. But in many instances, small- and medium-sized business owners are finding themselves working 50, 60, or even more hours a week. In fact, according to an article by Forbes, nearly one-third (29%) of surveyed small business owners report working +50 hours per week, while 86% of respondents said they work on weekends. And while it's amazing to be passionate about what you do, a study published by the Harvard Business Review revealed that it's that passion, coupled with long hours, social isolation and, in short, lack of a life, that can lead to burnout.
Fortunately, as the owner, you have the power to change things, take steps that will increase productivity, and create a business that allows you, and your team, to find that all-important work-life balance. Making such changes won't happen overnight, of course, but with a few simple tips, getting more from your working hours – and gaining time to enjoy your life – will be easier than you think.
- Set daily goals. You can't finish everything every day, but if you stay organized and know what has to be done, what you'd like to get done, and what can wait, you can prioritize your work and focus on what matters most.
- Set deadlines and hold yourself accountable. By using project management software (or your own work calendar if the project doesn't have a lot of moving parts), you can assign deadlines to projects or tasks stay on track and keep procrastination at bay.
- Take time to save time. If you run reports for yourself or your clients, data entry can take an inordinate amount of time. To streamline data entry – especially if you find yourself entering the same data in multiple spreadsheets – create macros that will do the work for you. But macros aren't just limited to spreadsheets. Depending on the tools you use, you may even be able to create macros to automate "canned" responses for emails, replacing smart (sometimes called curly) quote marks with straight quote marks, etc.
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- Batch your small tasks. One way to increase productivity is to keep your day flowing, so if you have a lot of small tasks that you simply work on here and there, save them all and work on everything during a single block of time. For instance, if you spend time every week responding to email, scheduling meetings, updating social media, ordering supplies, etc. don't work on them in the midst of a larger project. Instead, give yourself 30 to 60 minutes each day (or every other day), to tick them off your list in one sitting. This way, you can prevent task switching, which can kill your productivity, and truly focus on your most important projects.
- Keep office hours. In order to balance your work and your life, you need down time every day – so keep office hours (just as you would with any other job). This way, you can set aside time for work, as well as your family, friends, hobbies, and your own physical and mental well-being. (Note: When you're "off the clock" use the Do Not Disturb feature to mute email and event notifications. And try not to be tempted to open your work apps unless it's truly an emergency.)
- Only say yes to meetings with a purpose. Nothing wastes time more than meetings that aren't organized well or whose purpose is ambiguous. So, before agreeing to a meeting, know why you're meeting. Then, prepare an agenda ahead of time, if appropriate, and let everyone in the meeting know that you have a have a hard stop. By doing so, you can make sure attendees know what needs to be done – and show up prepared to work.
- Take workout breaks. When you take time, say, a lunch break, to walk, run, or otherwise workout, it can increase productivity, according to a study by researchers at Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet. Not only does working out during the day seem to increase stamina and reduce downtime due to illness, but study participants "who exercised also reported improvements in self-assessed productivity."
Depending on your personal and professional situation, you could even try to go from a traditional 5-day work week to a 4-day week. According to Fast Company, businesses in New Zealand and Great Britain have instituted shortened work weeks with great success – finding that such a move increased productivity and improved workers' sense of work-life balance. By giving yourself and/or your team one full day each week to go to doctor's appointments, manage family matters, household tasks, etc., you remove the need to do it during the regular work week, which naturally helps you focus on work while you're there – and accomplish more in less time.
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