Imagine your dream situation a year from now. Where do you see yourself and your business?
Perhaps you’re hoping to increase sales by 25%, expand into a lucrative overseas market or become a household name in your city. Maybe you just want cash-flow stability, so you can step back from the office and spend more time with your kids.
Like every other business owner you have great ambitions, but sometimes it feels like hard work isn’t enough. You spend long hours at the office but don’t get the results you’re striving for. A lack of time and resources has you feeling perpetually overwhelmed.
Here’s a little secret… You have a much greater chance of achieving these goals if you take control of your personal productivity. It’s one of the most crucial skills a small business owner can master.
How do you define personal productivity?
A marathon runner knows his best recorded time, and how many minutes he needs to beat it. A pop singer knows how many album sales she needs to go platinum. But defining productivity is more complicated for the small business owner.
You don’t have a single objective - you have hundreds of complex tasks to achieve every day. Your business has a big picture and a vision of success, but it’s a jigsaw made up of many different pieces.
So why is productivity important, and how can you define it in a meaningful way?
To understand your own efficiency (or lack thereof), small business owners need to develop a clear understanding of productivity metrics. Revisit our last article to learn about three key techniques for measuring productivity. Measuring your daily habits is the first step towards becoming more efficient at work.
Why is productivity important for small business owners?
As a small business owner, time is your most valuable asset. You’re keenly aware of this, but still find yourself constantly battling the clock.
Every day brings new challenges and unexpected tasks. Staff, stakeholders and customers are vying for your attention - and it’s hard to know who to prioritise when there isn’t enough time in the day. That’s why personal productivity is so important.
Money struggles can exacerbate these problems. Many small business owners are paid less than their traditionally employed peers. When money is tight, you prioritise paying staff and suppliers first - there’s no choice if you want to keep the company afloat. Despite working excruciatingly long hours you’re often the last to get paid.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
By making a conscious effort to improve your personal efficiency you can train yourself to get better results from your time. This can have positive flow-on effects for your entire business, improving your cashflow and helping you reclaim your freedom.
Productivity training can help you minimise distractions, shut out excess noise, and focus on the tasks that really matter.
After a few months of concentrated effort this can have positive flow-on effects for your entire business, improving your cashflow and helping you reclaim your freedom.
The difference between productivity and being busy
Have you ever turned up at the office and spent the whole day helping colleagues, putting out fires and dealing with unexpected delays? Suddenly 6pm rolls around and you have a sinking feeling… You haven’t crossed off any major tasks you had actually planned to do.
How can you work so damn hard and yet fail to get things done?
“As a business owner, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of being busy, and being busy is not necessarily productive.” - Tim Ferriss, Author of The 4-Hour Workweek.
Many small business owners fall into this trap because they fail to define what being truly productive means to them. They end up in constant reactive mode, and actually work longer hours than necessary because they’re focused on the wrong things.
This idea is illustrated by the Pareto Principle, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto (read all about the 80/20 principle and other awesome time management books here). The widely supported theory claims that our efforts don’t necessarily equal our output. In fact, 20% of our efforts tend to produce 80% of our results. This means that 80% of our work efforts aren’t actually important, and can be culled or delegated to others.
Once you realise that personal productivity is this important, the possibilities for improvement are profound. By identifying the 20% of your efforts which are producing roughly 80% of your results, you can focus on those and cut out much of your wasted time. You can start doing more of the essential tasks to maximise your output and results.
The lifestyle benefits of personal efficiency
Imagine if you could spend up to 80% less time at the office without damaging your output. The benefits of this hardly need explaining.
That’s more time you could spend with your family, or more time to learn non-work related skills. You could become a culinary genius, learn a new language, or sculpt that gym body you’ve always wanted. Even better, you could finally take that European vacation - the one you’ve dreamed of ever since becoming an entrepreneur.
Having more time in the week is guaranteed to make you happier, healthier and more mentally alert. It also means you’re less likely to suffer burnout - which is a real problem for many small business owners.
The benefits of “getting things done” for your company
Improving your focus of getting the right things done doesn’t just improve your own life; it can also have a trickle down effect into the rest of your business and the attitude of your employees.
Leadership is about setting examples, and your management style will have a strong influence on the company as a whole. By setting powerful examples of efficiency and time management, staff are more likely to model themselves on these habits.
"[The] world might feel like it’s burning with urgency, noise, panic and stress but you’re locked in a kind of cocoon. You’re quietly doing what a Ninja does best: you’re shipping and clarifying, completing and organising, one thing at a time.” – Graham Allcott, How To Be A Productivity Ninja
You can speed up this process by actively encouraging and implementing personal productivity training in your workplace. A great way of doing this is by installing a company-wide productivity app. There are many kinds of software available to help your staff track time, monitor their own activities and report on these results.
By giving your team access to productivity tools, they’ll be well equipped to make better choices and improve their own efficiency. You’ll also benefit from direct insights about where money is being made and lost in your business.
How improving your personal productivity improves your delegation skills
When you define your personal productivity, you learn which of your efforts are producing real results. This gives you the chance to cull non-important tasks; but it also helps you to delegate work to others.
Small business owners are forced to wear many hats. The company is your baby after all, and it’s hard to trust projects to the hands of others. But as we become more productive we gain better insights about the type of work that is appropriate to delegate.
Thoughtful delegation of tasks in turn has benefits for your staff. By taking on new work they have the opportunity to expand their skillsets, gain experience and cultivate more fulfilling careers. This also helps to build feelings of solidarity and collective responsibility within your business.
Overthrow the competition with your productivity
Having an excellent product, an innovative idea and a strong business model isn’t enough to stay relevant in today’s world. Our markets are more connected than ever before, and your company won’t be unique for long. It’s essential that you fight to maintain any possible edge over your competitors. Personal productivity is one way of maintaining that edge.
If you can work faster and more effectively than your competitors, using less time as a resource, you’re giving yourself an instant advantage as a business owner.
This is especially true if your entire workforce is operating at maximum efficiency. And as the productivity of your whole organisation increases, so will your production capacity. Resources are used in a more efficient manner, saving money while getting the best results. By lowering your overheads and increasing profits, long-term productivity initiatives can make your business more competitive in any market. And who doesn’t want that?
The benefits of personal productivity are immense and far-reaching. This is especially true for small business owners. When you’re trapped in the daily grind and are busy every day it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Your long-term goals and projects are at risk of being neglected, as you struggle to keep on top of daily chores.
But by recognising your personal productivity traps, and learning to work in the most efficient way possible, you guarantee a better lifestyle for yourself and better results for your company.
Mastering your own productivity sets a great example for your staff and helps you to cultivate a more efficient organisation. In turn, this creates better company-wide output and gives you a competitive edge. You’re more likely to get cash-flow positive and achieve your long-term goals. And surely that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.
Now you understand why productivity is so important for small business owners. But how can you start improving it? In upcoming chapters we’ll offer some actionable advice for improving your own productivity - including strategies for beating the afternoon work slump, and the professional habits of highly productive people. Subscribe to our newsletter today and you won’t miss a beat.