When it comes to running a small business, there’s a fine line between being busy and being productive. Juggling a seemingly endless list of tasks both during and after office hours might make you feel busy, but how productive are these tasks if they are not making the most of your already very limited time?
There’s no shortage of productivity tips available online, but the lack of testimonial evidence to support whether or not these tips actually work could leave you feeling more overwhelmed and even less productive. That’s why we decided to get our list of productivity hacks straight from sources who are always eager to save time, money and energy — business owners themselves.
We’ve already made our list of entrepreneur-sourced productivity apps for businesses, and these 20 tried-and-true productivity hacks will provide you with the tools needed to help you and your team boost your overall efficiency at work.
Meditation has been instrumental to my productivity. I start every day with meditation to clear my mind so I’m ready to bring my best. It helps me become more focused, less stressed and have a higher level of awareness throughout the day. That awareness can help you minimize distractions and maximize productivity.
–Lewis Goldstein, President of Blue Wind Marketing
2) Start Early
My favorite productivity tip is to commit to one important task in the early hours of the day, before 8AM. During this one-to-two-hour block of time, I’m not receiving emails or phone calls. This means I can hyperfocus on the work at hand, which is usually the thing on my to-do list that’s the most creatively demanding, or else an annoying task that I’d be inclined to put off later in the day, when I’m not as focused or alert. I’ve found this to be a failproof way of ensuring that my most important work gets consistent attention, no matter how many unexpected interruptions come up throughout the rest of the day.
— Chloe Brittain, Owner of Opal Transcription Services
3) Write Down Your Goals
One thing that I believe has made the biggest difference in my productivity has been writing down my goals. Each month, I write down a list of things I’d like to accomplish. Then, each week, I take a look at that list and decide what I want to tackle over the next seven days. Finally, I break down those goals into more digestible daily to-dos each night before bed.
Approaching my work this way not only frees space in my mind (it’s almost like mental decluttering), but it also makes my goals seem less intimidating and more achievable. Plus, I find I’m much more motivated to get things done once it’s written on paper.
–Dylan Houlihan, Founder of Swift Salary
4) Save Emails for Later
My productivity skyrocketed when I started waiting until the afternoon to check my email. Most people check it first thing in the morning. The problem is, this puts you in reactive mode. Your daily to-do list fills up with all the tasks contained in those emails. These tasks are almost never what moves the needle for your business. Nine times out of 10, they’re just non-urgent distractions that steal time from your high ROI activities.
A few months ago, I decided to stop wasting my mornings with busy work. I forced myself to start each day with whatever task would make the biggest impact on my business, waiting until 3PM to open my email. Since then, the rate at which I’m able to output client work has nearly doubled. Turns out, nobody cares if you don’t respond to their message first thing in the morning.
–Mitch Glass, Travel Blogger, Project Untethered
5) Go Task By Task
The best advice here is the simplest advice: stop trying to do 100 things at once, especially while you’re working on the computer. Stick to one task at a time for hour-long blocks or more. Your brain takes time to readjust to new tasks while you’re multitasking and you end up accomplishing less in the same amount of time. Tim Ferris had the best quote on this topic when he said “In a world of distraction and multitasking, the ability to single task — to genuinely do one thing without getting distracted by push notifications, alerts, email, text messages, social media, whatever it might be — is a superpower.”
–Spencer Smith, CEO of IRC Sales Solutions
6) Make a Power List
I use something called the Power List. This list is not a general to-do list or a list of goals. It’s a list of 5 critical tasks that I can do each day to move my company forward. To clarify, a to-do item could be something like paying our vendors for the month. A critical task would be scheduling appointments with 3 potential new vendors so that we can expand our business. Every day, the first thing that I do is the Power List. I might even stay home to work on this and go to the office afterward. Once I have completed the Power List, I am free to work on putting out fires in the business or working on things that I enjoy doing within the business.
–Shawn Breyer, Owner of Atlanta House Buyers
7) Create Templates
Create a template for everything. Do it right away when you start your business, so you’ll never have to write the same thing twice. Then spin off a template for each common variation – this is what many people miss when they first start out. For instance, I have a base template for responding to book-writing queries. But I have a variation for when someone queries for a children’s book, as there are some different elements and a fixed price. By the same token, I have a contract template for book writing, and I have a variation of that same template for screenplays, as they have certain differences (such as the length is measured in screen time rather than in word count). I could not even begin to measure how many hours templates save me, but the sooner a business starts building its collection of templates, the more time they will save.
–David Leonhardt, President of THGM Writers
8) Learn to Delegate
As your business grows, you’ll do more work and spend more time on it. But there’s only 24 hours a day and there’s only so much you can do yourself. If you insist on doing all the $10/hour tasks yourself, you’ll miss out on opportunities to work on jobs that make you $100/hr for your business. At some point, you’ll hit a brick wall. Your business will stop growing, you’ll break down, and no amount of time management is going to make up for all the time you spend working. You can break this cycle, or even stop it from happening if you delegate right away.
Before I started delegating, I used to work 30-40 hours a week on my business. This was around 10 years ago. Now, I work 17 hours a week. Not because I have to but because I want to. My business has grown and I’ve become more productive not because I work more but because I’m hiring more people.
–John Jonas, Founder of Onlinejobs.ph
9) Plan Your Breaks
By carving out specific time to take a break from your project, your email, and even your business, you give yourself the opportunity to clear your head. When you come back to work with a clear head, it’s easier for you to not only make decisions but to make the right decisions. The best breaks are doing little things that bring you joy. Whether your joy break is taking a walk or calling a loved one, be mindful of how you spend the break rather than using it as an excuse to get distracted.
The purpose of planned breaks is to really give yourself permission to disconnect from your to-do list and simply reset. Other ideas for those breaks include journaling, meditating, reading (something unrelated to work), and even mindfully eating without checking your phone. Whether your break is 15 minutes or 60 minutes, the key is consistency. Bring joy into your productivity routine; you won’t regret it!
—Sonya Matejko, Writer, Yoga Teacher, and Communications Consultant
10) Try The Pomodoro Technique
Pomodoro is a productivity hack where you focus on work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break, repeating this cycle for your workday. While I found it useful for me as an individual, I discovered it’s even more effective when implemented team-wide because everyone’s 25 minutes of work become synchronized. No one is interrupted by colleagues chatting, but teammates can catch up during their 5-minute breaks.
–Sam Johns, Career Counselor and Resume Expert at Resume Genius
11) Get Organized
When I get to my desk, I organize my workspace. Having a clean workspace helps me focus and feel structured. After I organize everything, I settle in with a cup of coffee and try to relax for 15 minutes before diving into the hustle. Then, I prioritize my day’s to-do list and map out the rest of my day.
–Lori Cheek, Founder/ CEO of Cheekd
12) Plan Ahead
What really helps me the most is planning ahead. This helps in a couple of ways:
First, it helps me prioritize. When I take time to think about what needs to be done, it also helps me see what doesn’t. I take time to think about the big picture and what’s most important, and then I can prioritize what I need to do over the next day or days.
Second, it helps keep me from wasting time and piddling throughout the day. If I don’t take the time to plan ahead, I hit the day crawling. I have to think about what to do and try to figure it out in the moment. If I don’t feel like doing a certain task, I’m more likely to put it off, even if in the grand scheme of things, it’s most important. I also find myself piddling and messing around a lot more if I don’t have a set plan.
With a plan, however, I know what I need to do and can hit the ground running. There’s less room for piddling because I know exactly what I need to do and can jump on it, one task after another. How I feel at the moment also doesn’t matter as much, because I have my list of prioritized tasks and can start hitting them one by one.
–Thomas R. Harris, Owner of The Exceptional Skills
13) Set Healthy Boundaries
Business owners often operate from a faulty belief that they can, and should, be available and working all day, every day. While most of us can manage this for a season, it is not sustainable for a long period of time. Even though you own the business, set your hours. Establish your starting and ending times. Give yourself permission to not work most weekends. Take vacations. If your business cannot run without you, that’s a problem that indicates that you need to delegate, outsource, and/or develop written procedures. If you want a healthy business, you’ll need to have healthy boundaries.
—Dr. Melissa Gratias, Productivity Coach, Author, and Speaker
14) Incorporate Exercise
I try to find creative ways to multi-task that incorporate work and exercise. Several larger companies I worked for had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch, but when you are an entrepreneur you have to get creative to find balance. Instead of meeting up with your colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal or chatting with them on the phone, meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too. You’ll feel great after, the time will fly and it will be a fun activity to share.
It works with customers too. I have clients who play golf, so sometimes we meet at a driving range instead of the office to discuss business matters. A change in venue is always nice, and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk. The other tips I like to incorporate are taking public transportation when possible, parking at the far end of the lot and taking the stairs instead of the elevator – it adds up to a lot of extra steps and movement if you do it every day.
—Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls
15) Make a 3-3-1 List
My favorite productivity tip is something I call the 3-3-1, I adapted it from a few different books and the SCRUM methodology. At the start of each day, you write down 3 things you did well in the last 24 hours. Then, you write 3 top tasks you’ll accomplish today. Lastly, you write down 1 thing standing in the way, if applicable.
This works on a few different levels, 1) it encourages you and demonstrates that you have a history of success, 2) it keeps you from overworking or underworking, and 3) it helps you get real and tackle any obstacles if they exist.
–Jean-Marc Saint Laurent, Founder of Saint313 Limited
16) Utilize Automation
Automate your business in every area that makes sense. Business owners spend way too much time typing the same email repeatedly and performing the same tasks. As a result, business owners miss out on new business opportunities due to lack of follow-up and slow communication. Every business wants to run faster, cheaper and leaner and automation is the key to all these things.
You can automate repetitive tasks, sales, follow-up, social media, calendar appointments, scheduling, recruiting, and payroll to name a few. Look for tasks that suck time out of your day and look for ways that automation can save you time and increase your productivity.
–Clate Mask, Co-Founder and CEO of Keap
17) Organize Your Inbox
My biggest productivity tip involves organization around your email inbox. Gmail provides the ability to sort emails based on unread, starred and labels. Everything unread is obvious. If it’s something I need to follow up with that day, I star it to stay at the top of my mind. If it can be addressed later, I label it in my follow-up folder. I also have tens of folders sorting emails into a variety of sections. My inbox becomes my to-do list and staying organized in email, my number 1 mode of professional communication, makes sure I’m operating effectively.
–Ben Ames, Business Development for Corl Financial Technologies
18) Get Some Fresh Air
To be more productive, take a walk outside in nature. Take a moment away from what you are heavily absorbed in. Give your brain a new outlook, a fresh perspective, to give yourself the opportunity to come back and work better, faster, and more productively than before.
With over 215 million results for a Google search for “productivity from nature,” this is a topic that is gaining traction but has not yet fully influenced our offices and lives. In a recent study by the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a group who saw natural scenery for as little as 40 seconds were more relaxed, did significantly better in an attention test, made fewer mistakes, and were all around less distracted.
Join the movement and come outside – enjoy natural scenery. There are parks accessible almost anywhere in the world – a local park where you can walk among the trees or grasses is enough to gain these benefits. And your work, your productivity, everything you do, will benefit immensely.
—Ari Gunzburg, Motivational Speaker
19) Track Your Time
The first thing you need to do to increase your productivity is to find out what you’re doing with your time. So, start tracking it. You don’t need any special tools to do this, a simple pen and paper will do (although I personally love Excel sheets).
Create four columns: one each for the date, the time, the activity and any notes you may have. That’s it.
Once you know where your time is going, you can make a better plan. However, until you know what’s holding you back (for example, do you get distracted too often by that Facebook tab you have opened?), you could make any plan you want but it’s not going to make much of a difference.
–Jade MacRury, Founder of Live A Blissful Life
20) Create Checkpoints
Breaking up your tasks is an amazing way to improve productivity. When the goal post feel very far away, it can be hard to keep moving towards them. Just getting top the next checkpoint is a fantastic mental shift that can help you stay on task in a really amazing way. Breaking larger tasks into small ones also allows for more focus and makes it more achievable.If you have a lot of tasks and they all seem equally large or small, break them into smaller ones. Treat every rung of the ladder as an achievement itself and soon you will be on the top.
–Alexander M. Kehoe, Co-Founder & Operations Director at Caveni Digital Solutions
These business owners have shared their productivity hacks, and now we want to hear yours! How do you keep yourself productive at work? Have you found success with any of the tips included in our list, or do you have a favorite productivity hack of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments!