As your business grows, it becomes more and more essential to find ways to increase productivity — both your own productivity and that of your team. One way to do this is to focus on the time suckers that drain you of your available time and energy.
Because let’s face it, we all have the time suckers that cause us to look up thinking it’s been ten minutes, and instead, it’s been two hours. Or better yet, “I’m just going to respond to this one message” morphs into a morning of lost productivity.
But the reality is that even when we want to increase productivity, we can’t simply throw things out the window. So many of these time suckers are unavoidable tasks that have to get done. We must deal with things, like our inbox and Facebook, to run our businesses.
The key then to increase productivity isn’t to STOP doing them altogether, but rather to figure out how you can effectively manage your time when tackling activities you KNOW can suck you in and waste your time.
Here are a few strategies I’ve had success with for my business and that I’ve seen my clients use to increase productivity in their businesses.
Increase Productivity in Your Inbox
Email can be one of the biggest time wasters there is, so it’s important to find the methods that work best for you. It’s not uncommon to spend hours upon hours on your inbox each week and still feel as though you aren’t ever truly on top of your email.
This often stems from how you’re tackling your emails rather than how much time they actually need to respond to them. So often, we experience a high level of context switching when it comes to emails because we choose to respond to them as they come in or we do them in between other tasks.
Context switching is an insidious thing that is a key roadblock that prevents increased productivity without even realizing it’s to blame. For more on context switching, be sure to check out this post.
So, the goal is to find a way that minimizes context switching to allow you to increase productivity. Rather than popping in and out of your inbox or immediately responding to notifications all day, set aside some focused time to tackle them once or twice per day. Depending on volume, you may find 30 minutes is sufficient, so start there.
For my inbox, I spend 30 minutes at the start of my day responding to any of the quick, 1-2 line emails still pending. Anything that will require a more thorough response or follow-up gets labeled and added to the client’s queue. This 30 minutes allows me to bang out quite a bit of the quick stuff, so I can go into a work block knowing I’ve made progress on my inbox.
Similarly, I spend 30 minutes in my inbox midday and end of the day if needed.
I’d like to say I’m always at “inbox zero,” but more realistically, I have anywhere between 10-30 messages pending at any given time. Many of these are waiting on action during a client work block, and many may simply be waiting on a response. I shoot to have no more than ten unreads, though, since I consider that a true gauge of how on top of things I am.
Outside of these time blocks, I do my best to ignore my inbox. I do often need to go in there during work blocks for client details, attachments, etc., but I don’t pay attention to the new messages — especially when they’re from another client who I’m not actively working on. This helps me to efficiently process the current client’s task without getting sidetracked.
If you struggle with ignoring your inbox throughout the day, consider using a tool to pause your inbox. For some, this will make all the difference and allow them to increase productivity in ways they didn’t realize were possible.
Pro tip: An essential way to increase productivity is to ensure you aren’t using your inbox for task management. It’s easy to default to using your inbox for project management or task management, but it’s highly inefficient. If you need help picking a project management tool, check out this post. For more on the elements needed for effective project management, check out this post.
Be Strategic on Social to Increase Productivity
When it comes to social media, I’ve found two different types of time sucks trip us up. One is just straight up mindless scrolling and the other is the endless pings of notifications that take us out of what we’re doing.
The truth is, many of us use social media to market and to engage with current and potential customers, so it isn’t prudent to simply ignore our social media or not participate at all. Similar to email, what you can do is choose how you participate to increase productivity.
When I’m going into a work block, I make sure to turn off desktop notifications. They’ll all still be there when I get done, but this way, I’m not constantly tempted to peek. I also have my phone set to not show notifications on the home screen, so if I use it to see the time or whatever, I’m not distracted by the oh-so-important notifications waiting for me.
When it comes to interacting in groups for my business, I again use a time block of 30 minutes to get in and get done what I can. I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge interactor on social, so 30 minutes twice a week is about all I need.
While I’ve gotten better at mindless scrolling by using RescueTime, I could still improve. A good old-fashioned timer is an easy solution. Set a timer for say, five minutes, and then close out the app when it goes off! If you’d rather use an app, check out these options to help you take back your time and increase productivity.
Buffer Blocks to Increase Productivity
The third technique I use and recommend is the buffer block. This is a 30-minute block I add in at least once a day to deal with those little five minute tasks that just need to be done but generally don’t require a lot of time or effort.
Whether it’s uploading the bank statement for your bookkeeper or paying an invoice, it’s a task that needs to get done, and small as it may be, it’s likely to interrupt your workflow if you’re focused on a bigger project.
I keep a running list in my Getting Things Done inbox for these buffer tasks and then tackle them once per day when I need a bit of a break from the heavy work, but I’m not ready for a full-on break.
Many people prefer to schedule a buffer block into their day at a specific time, but I find that despite my somewhat obsessive tendencies, I still prefer to leave my day more fluid when it comes to time blocks.
And that’s the beauty of these techniques — you get to utilize them however best suits you, so if you’d prefer to have set times for your email, social media, and buffer blocks, you definitely can schedule them that way. Or, you can simply set goals for the morning, midday, and end of the day — or whatever works for you!
Increase Productivity One Step at a Time
It’s important to remember that increasing productivity is an ongoing process. It’s not something that you’re likely to ever feel “done” with. The goal of increasing productivity can be demoralizing if we’re not careful because of this. So rather than focusing on the ways you have “failed” to increase productivity, focus on the small, incremental improvements you make along the way.
All the little strategies that help you tackle time-sucking tasks more effectively, add up and make a big impact — even if they don’t always feel that way.