When big businesses think about productivity, they often think in terms of their return on investment (ROI); each employee costs a specific amount of money, so the company needs that employee to generate value for the company in excess of that expenditure. But I’ve noticed that entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to think of productivity differently, for two reasons:
1. Tasks exceed people to do them. Building a company from scratch takes an enormous amount of work, from everyone involved. There usually aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, so productivity becomes less about using your hours optimally, and more about trying to make as much progress as possible as fast as possible.
2. Money is limited. When there’s more work than can reasonably be handled by your current staff, the most logical option is to hire someone new, but small businesses and startups are operating with limited capital, and can’t always afford to hire someone or invest in automated tools to handle work for them.
So how can you optimize your business to get more done every day, without resorting to hiring more people?
1. Minimize Communication
Communication is often the biggest and most important part of a business’s operation — or at least, it seems that way. We spend hours a day reading and responding to emails, listening to voicemails, texting, instant messaging, and meeting and chatting with others. Many of these hours are necessary and productive, but there’s still a significant percentage that ends up being wasted.
Your meetings aren’t always necessary. Your phone calls often run long. You’re often distracted by unimportant incoming emails and instant messages. So instead of being a slave to communication, work to minimize all your communication channels, and make sure you dedicate the bulk of your day to committed, focused work.
2. Favor Specialization Over Generalization
In a startup or small business environment, the diversity of work to be done and limited number of people often means you and your employees become generalists, each responsible for wearing several different hats, many of which overlap with your coworkers’.
However, organizations almost always operate more efficiently when tasks are distributed to specialists, who focus on single fields of expertise; this is the entire philosophy behind the assembly line. If you can, try to assign and delegate tasks consistently among your employees, favoring assignments that call to each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.
3. Use Blocks, Sprints, and Subdivisions
People tend to work better when tracking and measuring small, achievable goals than they do when trying to tackle enormous projects. Accordingly, you should try to divide your projects and overarching tasks into smaller subdivisions. In the programming world, these short bursts of tasks and goals are referred to as “sprints.”
They could also be described as “blocks.” In any case, when you structure your goals and tasks in this way, you’ll be able to set more realistic, functional priorities, and you’ll spend your time working on the most important tasks for each day.
When time is limited and work is demanding, many entrepreneurs end up working long hours, extending into their nights and weekends. It makes sense that spending more hours means you’ll get more done, but it’s actually better to invest at least part of your time in rest and decompression.
Overworking yourself might give you a short-term boost in total tasks accomplished, but you’ll wear yourself out, reducing your cognitive abilities, adding stress to your life, and possibly putting you at risk of burning out.
5. Stop Adding Projects
Entrepreneurs are a naturally ambitious bunch. Every time they get a new idea, they add it to an already-massive list of ideas to sort through. They change direction frequently, and often overextend themselves in an effort to do more.
This is admirable in many cases, but it leads to a frenetic working style that ultimately results in fewer completed tasks and projects. Instead of adding more to the pile, focus on what you already have.
6. Look for Low-Cost Help
Consider looking for low-cost help in the form of personal assistants or independent contractors. Your time is valuable, and if you can pay these workers less than your time’s value to handle some of your time-intensive tasks, it’ll be worth the investment.
It’s entirely possible to optimize the time you and your employees are already spending in a way that allows you to get more done on a daily, and weekly basis. Once you adopt these strategies, you’ll notice your task lists gradually shrinking, and you’ll get closer to building the sustainable revenue stream you need to justify hiring another staff member.
And who knows? By the time you get to that point, you might find your processes so optimized, you don’t need to hire someone after all.