You know the feeling; you’ve spent all day running around like the proverbial fly and at the end of it you don’t seem to have achieved anything, nor really know what has taken up all your time. For small businesses time is money and the difference between being productive and being busy, can be the difference between success and failure.
How To Spot When You Are Just Being Busy
Being unproductively busy is an easy trap to fall into and not just for business owners. Everyone knows someone who seems to be working away as if it was going out of fashion and simply doesn’t have time to do anything more. These people can often be found on the phone, around the photocopier and working late. However when you actually look at what they have produced, the results are much less impressive. They are often not deliberately being this way; they just don’t see that they are working hard but not working smart.
With time such a valuable commodity, you definitely don’t want to be spending any of it in ways that are not productive, well at least not during business hours. When you feel that you are run off your feet, working longer hours than you wanted to be, it is worth stopping what you are doing and taking stock. Look back over the last day, hour, telephone conversation etc and really think about whether it brought you closer to any of your goals, whether it could have been shorter and whether you actually achieved what it was you set out to achieve.
If your answer is that you haven’t moved things forward, or you are in anyway unclear what you achieved, then you’re probably being busy not productive. This process need only take a few seconds, but can save you hours, as it allows you to assess the value of your actions and make improvements to ensure you perform at your best.
How To Stop Being Busy And Become More Productive
Organisation and goal setting is the key here. We are not talking about micro-management, but rather setting a level of control over your actions that makes you work better. The tips below are examples of ways that successful business people have managed to stay productive.
1. Set Targets
It is difficult to monitor how productive you are being if you do not have any clear goals and targets to work towards. These ideally should be centred around your business growth plan and should be at the forefront of your mind at all times. Some people find that having monthly, or even six monthly targets are enough to keep them focused. Others find that they need to break these down to daily and even hourly targets to keep them on track. Take a careful look at what you want to achieve as a business and make a plan of how you want to get there and then bring this focus into all your business activities. Creating SMART targets are often the best way forward, especially if used in conjunction with KPI’s. Hitting your targets is also a great way to keep you motivated and a good excuse to reward yourself when the business day is over.
2. Make A Plan- And Stick To It
Again the detail of the plan is very much down to you and how much focus you need to keep yourself disciplined and productive. Some people spend a little time each evening writing up a plan for the next day. They break their day down into time slots and assign set activities to each slot, then most of all they stick to the times. Spending too much time on one activity, or working something that is not going anywhere, are common causes of unproductively. Being disciplined with the amount of time you spend on each task (some even set reminders to tell them when the time is up) means that you get more done and prevents that phone call chatting to the girl from supplies lasting for any more time than it needs to.
KPI’s are often looked upon with horror – the tools of an over controlling boss and possibly the reason why you started your own business in the first place. However, personal KPI’s don’t have to restrict your freedom and are invaluable in helping you stay productive, in that by monitoring them you can instantly see when you are slipping into being busy. It is important to find out what works best for you. For some it might just mean monitoring a few key points, such as, the number of products sold, new clients added to your database, canvass calls made, time spent on each call etc. These can be as detailed as you feel you need them to be and can really help keep you on track.
Even with the best time management skills in the world you will probably not always get through your daily “things to do” list. When making your day plan, or setting your targets, it is essential to be able to prioritise tasks. The most common way of doing this is by subjectively looking at each task in terms of urgency and importance. Urgency is based on any deadlines the task might have, while importance is based on the effects of missing the deadlines and the actual advantages of doing the task.
Assign each task a priority 1 – 4 and make sure you spend more time on getting the priority 1 tasks done first, then work you way through the others. For example, doing your tax return that is due in two days is probably priority 1, as it has a clear urgent deadline and the consequences of not doing it are quite severe. On the other hand finding a new supplier for the coffee machine is not very urgent, or important, so would be assigned priority 4.
Work Smart Not Hard
Good time management and self-discipline are the keys to a successful business career. There is often no need to stay late every night trying to get everything done (unless there is an emergency). By putting some of the above tips into place you may well find, that not only are you achieving more, but you are experiencing a better work-life balance as well. Putting solid time management, target setting and prioritisation techniques into place, may seem tedious and tricky at first, but once you try them you will quickly see their benefits.