When you own a small business, there are dozens of people and projects vying for your time and attention. It’s hard to figure out where to focus your resources and easy to become overwhelmed.
But your personal productivity helps determine your company’s productivity, so it’s crucial that you stay efficient.
To help you out, we scoured the web for the most practical and insightful advice on getting things done. Read on for tips on prioritizing tasks, managing digital distractions, making decisions, and more.
1. Schedule monthly 80-20 analyses.
Productivity guru Tim Ferriss used this technique to increase sales and cut his hours when he was running a small online supplement company called BrainQuicken.
The point of the exercise is to highlight the most important things you should be focusing on. First, you figure out the 20% of activities that are producing 80% of desired results. Then, you figure out the 20% of activities that are taking up 80% of your time.
Finally, you look at the overlap, or lack thereof, and eliminate the activities that are keeping you busy but aren’t producing key results.
“As a business owner, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of being busy, and being busy is not necessarily productive,” Ferriss told Business Insider.
2. Keep your list of priorities short.
When you’re in charge of a small business, it might seem like your to-do list is endless and everything needs equal attention.
But Chris Licata, owner of Blake’s All Natural Foods in New Hampshire, told Entrepreneur that his best productivity tip is to “embrace the reality that there is no such thing as a list of 10 priorities.”
Licata advises that entrepreneurs come up with a very short list of priorities in order to keep their teams focused on truly important projects.
3. Sideline nonurgent emails.
It’s important for small-business owners to keep abreast of the latest news in the area where they work. But reading every newsletter the minute it arrives in your inbox could be hurting your productivity.
Instead, Jonathan Long, founder and CEO of Market Domination Media, suggests creating an “offers” email address for newsletters and promotions that don’t require immediate attention. Check that inbox a few nights a week so it doesn’t distract you from focusing on important tasks during the day.
4. Restrict meetings to 30 minutes.
Most calendar software defaults to one-hour meetings. But according to Jeff Haden at Inc. Magazine, most issues can be addressed in 30 minutes or less. Make it a habit to schedule 30-minute meetings unless you know a subject will require extra attention.
5. Spend at least one day a month thinking about the long term.
GoodData CEO Roman Stanek told Business Insider that strategic thinking often gets lost in the shuffle of day-to-day calls and meetings.
He advises business leaders to go for a bike ride or do something else alone that allows them to clear their mind. That way they can concentrate on “where is the industry going, where is the company going, what should we do differently, what should we do better.”
6. Plan your day around your emotions and energy levels.
Depending on how much flexibility you have, you can schedule your workday according to typical fluctuations in your mood and energy levels. It can make all the difference between a super-productive day and a wasted one.
For example, if you notice your energy tends to flag in the late afternoon, arrange to answer emails from 4 to 5. And if you know you’re always super-pumped after 10 a.m. team meetings, plan to work on a creative project for the rest of the morning.
7. Learn to delegate.
Overwhelmed? Don’t take on the entire burden of moving the company forward. Instead, figure out which tasks should be accomplished by someone else and distribute them among your team.
“Make sure you delegate to people who often are better equipped to make decisions in a particular area than you are,” Shayan Zadeh, cofounder and CEO of online dating app Zoosk, told Mashable.
8. Avoid analysis paralysis.
According to James Waters, who served as the deputy director of scheduling at the White House, sometimes you have to make a decision with imperfect information — as uncomfortable as that may feel. In fact, Waters said it’s something that the White House has to do all the time.
In other words, do as much analysis and data gathering as possible, but don’t delay the moment of decision-making.
“That’s frustrating for everyone,” Waters said.
9. Have one meeting-free day every week.
If you allowed them to, meetings could probably take up all 168 hours of your week. That’s why it’s important to designate one weekday when meetings are verboten, so you can work on big tasks without distractions.
Dustin Moskovitz, cofounder of Facebook and cofounder and CEO of Asana, said he clears his schedule every Wednesday. It’s “an invaluable tool for ensuring you have some contiguous space to do project work,” he said.
10. Create a comfortable workspace.
Research cited on 99U suggests making your own decisions about the way your workspace is set up is linked to improved productivity.
Whether you’re working from home or an office building, the little design features matter. Personalize your space with photos of friends and family (or at least personalize your desktop background). Keep things tidy by using a basket to hold your papers and books. And make sure there’s enough light by placing a small lamp on your desk.
11. Make your health a priority.
Finally, don’t invest in your business at the expense of your personal well-being. Research suggests that poor nutrition and lack of physical activity is linked to lower productivity at work.
Encourage your team to maintain good health habits, too. If they’re sitting hunched over their computers all day, they could end up with health issues in the long term, which will only hurt your company’s performance.
Author: Shana Lebowitz
Shana is a strategy reporter for Business Insider. Before joining Business Insider in April 2015, she covered mental health for Greatist and personal finance for LearnVest. Shana studied English and psychology at Brandeis University and received her master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University.