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How To Increase Your Productivity

Many small business owners and entrepreneurs identify "lack of time" as the reason behind not being able to complete consistent marketing tasks for their business. Many years ago, with the help of a business coach, I learned to effectively manage my schedule and how to increase productivity in my business. Here's how:

Business woman juggling tasks - needs help to increase productivity

Set {Realistic} Business Hours

For entrepreneurs, this can be a challenging, yet vital, action to implement. Hard work is often what's needed to get and keep things going in business, but the risks are not worth the extra effort. Here's why:

  • Your productivity suffers.

  • Your creativity takes a dive.

  • Your health is at risk from stress and overload.

  • Your relationships will suffer.

The benefits to setting work hours far outweighs the risks for both you individually and your business.

  • Setting business hours sets expectations with clients on when you are available and when they can expect a response. No more missed meals, sleep, exercise or showers trying to respond to clients.

  • Using the additional techniques outlined below, set business hours gives you structure and outlines the time you are available to dedicate to work. Yes, sometimes we love our jobs so much it hardly feels like work and you don't mind putting in extra hours but let me just redirect your eyes to the risk list above.

  • Your family and friends won't always understand your love of your business. Just as you would want to feel like you matter, your friends and family want to spend time with you, free of work-related distractions and discussions. Setting business hours allows you to make plans with family and friends outside of work so you can show them how important to you they are.

  • Keeping work to business hours will prevents the work you love so much from becoming a never-ending drain of your time and energy.

  • Getting away from work allows your mind time to wander, explore new ideas and let creativity in.

Make sure your business hours are realistic. If you are the sole employee, you probably shouldn't work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week (even if you wanted to).

Use Time Blocking

Time blocking helps organize your day in productive blocks of time to help you focus on specific tasks, one at a time. No distractions, no interruptions, no multi-tasking, no excuses!

It is a great productivity tool that I love, but time blocking isn't for everyone. Or for every day of the week. If you decide to time block, you will want to make sure you build in some flexible time as things can, and will, take longer than expected or unexpected things will arise. Here's how it works:

  1. Identify your most productive time of day.

  2. Identify your high-priority tasks.

  3. Start with the beginning and end of your work days. Personally, I like to start and end each work day with emails, Task lists and planning for the day/next day.

  4. Next, block off time for your highest priority tasks at your most productive time of day.

  5. Now, add time blocks for work with lower priority.

  6. Add in a block for reactive tasks and a block for To Do lists (work and personal).

If this is your first time using time blocking, you will want to overestimate (by doubling) how long you think your tasks will take. You can also set a time block on Fridays for "overflow tasks" that you don't quite finish during the week. Over time, you'll become more productive and get a better handle on how long tasks take so you can make a more efficient schedule.

For time blocking to be most effective, make sure you schedule in and take breaks. See the Pomodoro Technique section below.

The Pomodoro Technique

I have been doing this for years but recently learned it has an official name... The Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoros are focused work sessions with short breaks to promote concentration, productivity and avoid mental fatigue. It is customizable to suit the individual and is perfect for those productivity time blocks.

When to use this technique:

  • Break down larger projects like writing an article, a book or designing a website into smaller actionable activities.

  • Bundle small tasks like creating a social media post for the upcoming holiday, pay a bill, or set an eye exam appointment.

Here's how it works:

  1. Identify the tasks you want to complete.

  2. Set a timer for 20 - 25 minutes. If you have trouble with focusing in general, or at first, you can customize it to as low as 10 minute increments and increase it over time. Or if 20 minutes is too short, you can extend to 50 minutes of focused time with 15 minute breaks. Still others prefer to use their ultradian rhythm for 90 minutes of focused work and 20 - 30 minute breaks. Do what works for you. I do recommend using an old fashioned windup timer (like this one) so you can turn off your phone notifications to reduce distractions.

  3. Work on your task until the timer goes off.

  4. Step away from your task immediately for 5 to 30 minutes, depending on your focused time. You can use the restroom, drink a glass of water, take a walk, do jumping jacks, stretch, pet your cat.

  • After four 25 minute pomodoros, take a 30 minute break.

  • If you finish your tasks before the timer goes off, use your time to do something productive like read an article or send a client a birthday card.

  • Your pomodoro time should not be broken to answer incoming calls, emails or texts.

Without the distractions and interruptions, you have now likely taken what used to be a full day's worth of work and condensed it into 4 hours. And, as a bonus, you have started to train your brain to focus.

sample pomodoro schedule to increase productivity

Reduce Distractions

Once you have time set aside to return calls and messages and complete high priority tasks, you won't have to worry about being reachable all day, every day. Here are some helpful tips to reduce distractions:

  • Use Do Not Disturb and/or turn off Notifications on your phone during certain hours of the day. You are able to make exclusions to this so you can be available to your family or others you designate in an emergency.

  • You can turn off your phone ringer during focused time and turn it back on during available time.

  • Turn off notifications on your computer.

  • Set up a scheduling app with your availability (most will even sync to your calendar) so clients can schedule time with you directly from your website.

  • Shut your office door, put up a sign that you are unavailable and/or wear noise cancelling headphones (I love the Bose brand) so others can see you're busy or earplugs if you work alone.

  • Avoid the back and forth emails by making sure you communicate complete details, actionable items and delivery timeframe.

Using the techniques above will allow you to greatly increase focus and productivity plus reduce the overall amount of time you are spending working. With all that free time, do you want to meet up for a margarita after work?

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