If you take a few steps back from the day-to-day frenzy of running your small business, just for a while, and reflect on your personal activity, you will be able to see if your endlessly busy days (and sometimes nights) are as productive for your small business as they could be. You just have to know how to spot the signs of “unproductive busyness” masquerading as productive small-business management.
4 Key Symptoms of Unproductive Business
Here are a few symptoms of “unproductive business” that should serve as red flags and prompt you to rethink the way you get things done; along with a tip or two for each to resolve the issue and become a more productive small-business owner.
The Symptom: You put off tasks that you don’t enjoy doing
The solution: Attack those unenjoyable tasks as soon as you are aware that they need to be done. Alternatively, delegate them to a trusted member of your team. Remember that everyone is different and you may have people in your team that enjoy the tasks that you hate. Delegation can be a great way to increase the skills of others in your team, which can lead to further productivity gains.
The Symptom: You’re checking your email more than twice a day
The Solution: Simple—cut down the number of times you check your email each day. Email is the biggest time-stealer of all for small-business owners. You will become more productive if you keep your email at bay and schedule two specific time-slots per day for viewing and acting upon it.
You may need to ask yourself why you check your email more than twice per day. For example, it could be that you use your email folders or your inbox as a to-do list. Stop doing that… Implement a proper, dedicated to-do list instead, and then you will not feel the need to check your email so often.
The Symptom: You pride yourself on your multitasking capabilities
The Solution: Stop fooling yourself. Science has shown us that multitasking doesn’t make you a productive small-business owner. You actually lose time and become less productive due to constant switching between tasks. Identify the employees you trust the most and start delegating.
But what if you have nobody to delegate to? Then of course, it’s down to you to find ways to stop yourself from multitasking. As strange as it may sound, one way to do this is to give yourself deadlines for every task, and make them much more aggressive than is necessary (incidentally, this is another good reason to have proper to-do list, because you can add deadlines for each task).
For instance, if you think you need two hours to do some business accounting, give yourself a deadline of 45 minutes instead—and then go for it. By limiting the time you have to work on a single task, you will feel less tempted, or even unable, to multitask, and believe it or not, as you settle into this new way of doing things, you will find yourself experiencing less pressure, rather than more.
The Symptom: You constantly wonder where your time goes
The Solution: There is nothing worse, in any situation, than not knowing. This is as true in relation to your time as to anything else. However, unlike some situations, you can discover the answer you need without too much difficulty, although you will need to be disciplined in order to do so. Try following the two steps below.
Step 1: All you need to do is to track everything—and I mean everything—that you do in your “business hours,” just for one week, using a time journal. Record the amount of time you spend on every task and activity and if you are a one-person business working at home, include domestic activities and time spent in front of the TV or surfing the internet (if you do those things during your “business hours”).
At the end of that week, review your journal and identify which tasks and activities you could eliminate or reduce. The best tasks to do less of are those that don’t contribute to business revenue. Next, identify which activities you can do more of and that will bring money into your business.
Step 2: Now, if nothing else, you should lose the anxiety attached to not knowing where your time goes. The next step is to consider what practical steps you can take to cut down on the unproductive activities and increase the productive ones.
For example, if you find yourself dealing with domestic duties during your business hours, can you ask other family members to do a little more at home for you? Or could you hire somebody to do some of your domestic chores while you focus on activities that generate profit?
An Alternative to Internal Delegation
Thanks to the internet and increasing workforce globalization, a virtual assistant in an English-speaking country such as the Philippines can serve as an extra pair of hands and an extra brain on your team—someone to whom you can delegate, even if you operate as a one-person business.
Furthermore, he or she can do so far a very affordable price, adding great value by freeing your time to focus on activities which are more production—and profitable—for your business.
So now you have some remedies for unproductive busyness and you know how to diagnose the issue, take a few steps back from the day-to-day frenzy, just for a while, and check if your workload is as productive as it could be.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015. It has now been revamped and expanded to make the content more comprehensive and informative.