As a small business owner, I wear many hats, including executive and entrepreneurial coach, video podcast host, plus bookkeeper, marketer, copywriter, vendor liaison, advertising and publicity director, and office manager, among others. My schedule is full. The most important thing I can do is to be more efficient – as efficient as I can possibly be.
1. Set up systems for common activities and tasks.
There’s no sense in recreating the wheel. Often, you’ll find that if you have a system that works well for everyone, you’ll get your coworkers to buy into the system and use it, which will make your life easier.
One of the most challenging things for me is when my assistants send emails like things like, “I’m out of ink and printer paper,” or, “You’re out of book signing pens.” I don’t have time to go shopping. I barely even have the time to go online and choose items my assistant and I need. Sometimes I don’t even know which items they’re talking about, so I have to circle back and say, “Which ink do you need?” Seriously, trying to track down the details and figure out specifically what they need means spending time emailing back and forth a few times. Hey, wait, a virtual office is supposed to be more efficient, right?
Now we’ve found a way to make things much easier and more efficient. Recently, we found out about Quill.com and their Shared Cart tool. Now, instead of my assistants sending me cryptic emails about what we need, they can go to Quill and add office supplies to a single cart. Then I can review their requests, modify them as needed, and place the order. It’s so easy! Only people I invite to the Shared Cart can add items. I could even create multiple Shared Carts for different assistants in different locations, if I need them.
Any administrator or office manager will find this a useful system. Say goodbye to co-workers stopping by your desk, dropping off Post-It notes. No more random requests interrupting your day. And no more following up on co-workers to make sure they tell you what they want, because you can set a due date and Shared Cart sends the recipients reminders for you. Talk about efficient! You’ll save time and improve the accuracy of all the orders you place, which means everyone gets exactly what they ordered. Now you have a system that your team will buy into to help you become more efficient and effective!
2. Track your time.
Most of my clients think they know how they spend their time. They think they’re very efficient with their time…until we start the clock. Then we realize just how completely unaware of just how many distractions interrupt their work flow.
Tracking your time, even for just a few days, will help you to assess how many times you’re interrupted or distracted. I often assign my clients to keep a time journal for two or three days. They’re instructed to set a timer to go off every 15 minutes and write down what they’re working on. They’re also instructed to make tick marks on their journal every time they’re distracted – by social media, text messages, emails, and people.
3. Eliminate noise pollution.
These days we’re all consumed with technology. You can’t go more than a few minutes without your devices notifying you of something or alerting you that something has happened that needs your immediate attention. But how often does anything require immediate attention? How many “emergencies” really are true emergencies?
Turn off those alerts and alarms. You don’t need notifications. When you’re working, set your phone to “Do Not Disturb,” if you have such a setting, so that only the most important numbers can get through. Turn off notifications from social media and email when you’re trying to work so that you can stay focused and make progress.
4. Stop multi-tasking.
“I’m amazing at multi-tasking.” I hear it again and again. And here’s the truth, backed by science: you’re wrong. No one is good at multi-tasking. When you multi-task, you not only make more careless mistakes and do sloppy work, but you also end up far more distracted and your work takes more time.
Stop multi-tasking and start focusing. You’ll find it’s far more efficient to complete one task before moving on to the next than distributing your attention and efforts across multiple tasks.
5. Let people know you’re trying to be more efficient.
One of the biggest distractions that keeps us from being efficient is other people. They like to stop by our desks, call us, email us, even if it’s just for a moment. Every interruption in work flow means more than just the time you’re spending interacting with another person. Every time you’re interrupted, it takes more time for you to get back “in the zone.” So even if someone stops by your office for “just a moment” or wants to have a quick phone call, it’s going to take a lot more time to get back to work and remember what you were doing.
Let people know that you’re really trying to be more efficient and productive with email autoresponders letting people know that you’ll check all emails at a specific time and reply by the end of the day. If you work in an office, you can ask that people respect some set office hours. Be sure to provide an option in case of emergency (e.g. put “EMERGENCY” in a subject line of an email so you know to respond immediately).
Become more efficient and you’ll find greater productivity and even greater happiness. You’ll be able to stop worrying about all the things you aren’t getting done and start feeling the peace of knowing you can stop racing around and start relaxing into efficiency.
Susan Baroncini-Moe, author of Business in Blue Jeans: How to Have a Successful Business on Your Own Terms, in Your Own Style, is the CEO of Business in Blue Jeans, a digital marketing firm working with businesses to help them protect and manage their online reputations and gain market share through digital marketing strategies. Named one of The Top 20 Digital Marketing Experts for 2015 by Online Marketing Institute, Susan is a sought-after business and marketing strategist and executive coach. In 2012, Susan broke the Guinness World Records® title for longest uninterrupted live webcast, and she and her businesses have been featured in Redbook Magazine, USA Today, MSN Living, American Express Open Forum, Social Media Examiner, Investor’s Business Daily, and Yahoo Finance, as well as many other online and offline publications.