Another e-mail sent off! Another voicemail left. Another bill paid.
We all have our own idea of what it means to be productive. It’s usually the tasks that we can complete quickly, easily and in large volumes.
Even if you don’t keep an actual to-do list, you might make a mental check mark as you realize your workload is moving from massive to manageable.
The challenge for many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is that it doesn’t take long for things to pile up again — and you don’t always have the same energy to put into being productive.
Part of the challenge is that SMBs are often launched by people who have put their best effort into almost everything they do. This includes the products and services they develop, the customer relationships they nurture and the extra touches that turn engaging with them from a mere transaction into a truly compelling experience.
This means many SMBs don’t really have to focus on working any harder. As their business grows, they may have to ask themselves if they’re working as smart as they could be.
“Smart” isn’t limited to simply developing the speed or efficiency with which you get through all the tasks in your way. While it’s always good to learn better approaches to the work you do, it’s also important to consider the tools that can let you boost productivity by an order of magnitude.
Many of these tools — which can range from individual apps to an entire platform or suite — are widely available and have been for some time. It’s just that figuring out which tools are a fit and the potential productivity benefits can take up even more time out of your day.
Without getting into specific products or tools, these are some of the most common areas where technology can make you more productive than you might have thought possible:
One of the first things many of us do each morning is figure out everything that’s going to be on our plate for the next eight hours or so.
On a bad day, this can wind up eating up the first hour (or more), because it requires poring over email messages or looking through all the questions and problems that have come in from customers the night before.
When you automate more of your company’s operations, look for tools which can give you a dashboard that brings in all those messages, alerts and notifications into a single place. That will make it easier to quickly sort through what’s urgent and what can wait. Some dashboards can even be set to do this sorting for you.
A good dashboard will give you time back first thing in the morning, and can keep you from feeling overwhelmed as new priorities emerge over the course of the day.
How do you order supplies for your company? Maybe there are some weeks where you call and place the order yourself. Perhaps in other instances you delegate it to a team member who sends an email, which allows the order to be tracked.
Another team member might log onto the supplier’s website to place the order, because they like being able to see your company’s previous purchases and have the ability to tweak the order if your needs change.
All of these approaches can work, but they can also lead to challenges because they’re not consistent. People might waste time following up on orders and searching in vain for the necessary information. You might wind up ordering too much (or not enough) of your supplies. There’s even the risk of paying for the same order twice.
Digital technologies can bring more rigour to these kinds of processes by offering a single, simple and speedy way for everyone to carry them out. Standardization often leads to productivity because you’re never taking the time to figure out how a process moved from “A” to “B.”
It’s hard to stay productive on the day-to-day things when you have a special project that is suddenly part of the mix.
A special project could be opening up a new office, or launching a new product. These projects often require corralling multiple people and making sure they keep on top of milestones in order to complete everything on time and on schedule.
Don’t make the mistake of relying on spreadsheets to organize special projects. There are all kinds of digital platforms that let you break down projects into phases or steps. You can set up workback schedules, assign tasks and manage approvals as the work gets done.
Always look for project management tools that can integrate with — or are an extension of — other systems you use to run the business, like a CRM.
No matter how long it takes you to commute into work, that’s time that could have been spent getting closer to achieving your business goals. The same is true when you have to wait to get back to your desk to log into important applications, or for a critical mass of team members to be in the same room before you can hold a meeting.
Mobile apps, videoconferencing and even chat tools are empowering remote work like never before. This is bringing flexibility to the workforce, but also a surge of productivity as people can get tasks done from their home or anywhere that’s convenient.
Productivity can be influenced by a number of factors that have little to do with technology. Great tools won’t address a problem with employee morale, for instance.
Your best bet is to find a metric to track productivity benefits. This doesn’t just have to include the volume of work you’re getting done, but the kind of work you’re able to do.
If the tools are freeing you up from manual or time-consuming processes, that might mean you can allocate more of your day (and energy) to strategic activity that help grow the business.
Productivity is never really an end in itself — it’s a means to SMB success.