Simple steps towards being more productive, and some digital tools to help you get there. Written by guest author Katy Carlisle of The Wheel Exists.
Productivity can be a real challenge for small business owners. Many entrepreneurs find themselves taking on multiple roles to manage and grow their business, and with so many tasks to complete, being productive is key.
Productivity specialist Katy Carlisle has delivered several productivity masterclasses as part of the Eveolution Programme. Below Katy offers 10 productivity tips, and apps or digital tools that you can use to help implement them.
1. Optimise small gaps in your day
You know those annoying parts of your day when you're not actually doing anything useful but there's no point in starting any proper projects? Like when you're waiting for the train, in a queue, or at home waiting for the pasta to boil. Start to make use of those moments by having a list of tasks for these little gaps, and note down any small actions that you can take in these otherwise unused opportunities.
Optional tool: Any.Do
2. Track your time
Most people at some point have asked themselves, “Where did that time go?” and if you want to be more productive in your work or personal life then it can be really helpful to know how you're spending your days. Quite often, you may think that you worked fairly solidly for a few hours when in reality there were a series of interruptions and distractions that took up a significant proportion of your time. This exercise only works if you're honest with yourself and track what you actually do, not just what you wanted to do!
Optional tool: Toggl
3. Keep your focus
Speaking of interruptions and distractions, wouldn't it be nice if you could just concentrate on the task at hand and give 100% of your attention to it? There's a great strategy to help with this, called the Pomodoro Technique. It gets its name from those little tomato-shaped kitchen timers you might have seen (pomodoro is Italian for tomato) because the technique is based on setting a timer for 25 minutes, during which you focus entirely on working on a particular task. You then have a five minute break (also timed so you don't get lost in your inbox for three hours) and then work for another 25 minutes. After four 25 minute sessions (with a five minute break between) you have a 30 minute break, and then restart the cycle with four new “Pomodoros”.
Optional tool: It's Focus Time
4. Do a 15 minute dash
This is a great way to make a dent in what seems like an overwhelming task. It's particularly good for tidying, sorting or processing emails (or anything that you find a bit tedious) as attacking the activity in short bursts means that you don't get bored, but you still make progress. Simply set a timer for 15 minutes and go! If you're a music fan then you could try creating a few playlists that last around 15 minutes and set this to go whilst you do your 15 minute dash. If you get very advanced at this you could have different types of music for different moods or activity levels, so for example if you need to do something high energy then upbeat tracks would work; if you need to focus then classical music can be useful as it doesn't tend to have distracting lyrics.
Optional tool: Spotify
5. Schedule your social media
If you are able to plan out some content in advance then you can use a social media scheduling tool to ensure that you have an online presence even when you're having a busy day (at which point, tweeting suddenly becomes a low priority). You can also use some social media scheduling tools to save searches for particular key words, which is great for finding content, staying up to date and keeping an eye on the competition in your area of business.
Optional tool: Hootsuite
6. Save useful reading for later
Make use of your offline time by saving articles that you find online to read whilst you're on the train, tube or even for your “small gaps” list. This is also useful for those times you unexpectedly find yourself without an internet connection, but now you'll have a backup plan that can help you to stay up to date and give you ideas for your own content. Perhaps if you find something useful to others you can add it to your social media schedule too!
Optional tool: Pocket
7. Unsubscribe from newsletters
It's easy to overlook digital clutter as it doesn't take up any physical space, and quite often you don't even see it. However it can take up valuable time and also intrude on your mental space if left unchecked. You know all of those newsletters that you can't even remember signing up for? What do you do with them? Perhaps you delete or archive them, or maybe they just stay unread in your inbox. Whilst it doesn't take long to delete one email, if you multiply that by the number of newsletters you receive and how often you need to take action around each one, then the time soon adds up. For the emails that you actually want to read, but don't have time for, having to constantly delete them or seeing them sitting unread in your inbox can also be a bit demoralising as it reminds you of how busy you are! Make it your policy to unsubscribe once from any mailings that don't bring real value to your life, and then don't let them trouble you again.
Optional tool: Unroll.Me
8. Outsource your tasks
Are you spending a significant proportion of your time on tasks that could actually be done by someone else? If so, it might be worth considering how much more business you could generate if you had even a few extra hours per month, as then the cost of outsourcing some of your tasks could pay for itself. Whether you use a Virtual Assistant (VA) or co-opt a friend or family member into helping, make sure that you use the extra time for an activity that moves your business forward.
Optional tool: TimeEtc
9. Get it out of your head
Sorry to break it to you, but your brain is not a super-efficient task management engine. You're human and you forget. Sometimes even the fear of forgetting is enough to keep you awake at night or draw focus away from another task you're working on. The other issue with working from memory alone is that you tend to tackle tasks as and when they appear in at the front of your mind, and often this isn't at the most effective time to deal with them! Using a project management or list tool (or just starting with an even more rudimentary approach with some post it notes and a pad of paper) spend some time capturing all of the areas you're working on and what the next steps are that you need to take to make progress. Be thorough and don't leave off those tasks that you're putting off. Whilst it may seem a bit overwhelming to see everything written down, you're going to have freed up a lot of mental space - and remember - those tasks were always there, just rattling around your brain in a disorganised way!
Optional tool: Trello
10. Step away from the device
Why, you may ask, is there a tip suggesting you don't use digital tools in an article about digital tools? Good question. When you block out the distractions and temptations on your computer, tablet or smartphone then you can find yourself with a renewed sense of creativity. This is a particularly good technique for strategy or planning sessions, or if you just need to reconnect with the people or places that inspire you! Do you spend too much time indoors and cooped up? Get outdoors and get moving, even if it's for a short walk.
Optional tool: Nothing!
About the author
After seven years working within charities, non-profits and startups, Katy Carlisle set up The Wheel Exists in 2013 to focus on helping small businesses and freelancers to create modern, professional and mobile friendly websites.
A big fan of saving time and money, Katy loves nothing more than finding a handy online tool or app that can help to make life easier. She loves sharing her experience of using these tools, and has presented to a standing-room only audience at the Business Startup Show as well as having her productivity tips featured in the Any.Do Productivity Playbook.
Katy is passionate about supporting people who are setting up their own businesses and in addition to being a Business Growth Hub mentor, she started the Freelance Friday coworking group last year for people who wanted a change from working along at home or in cafés. It now has over 350 members and a fantastic network of independent professionals who come together once a week to collaborate and share ideas. She has also been featured on the IPSE blog, where she shared her experience of the first two years as a freelancer.