Posts Tagged ‘Time Management’


No Business is Too Small to Automate

As a small business owner, you have limited resources, so the real question is whether you can afford to not automate. You and your employees have to wear many hats and run in many directions to keep your business running every day. Without automation, you may have to skip important steps in the interest of time — not to mention the boredom of dealing with tons of needless minutiae.

Automation does not mean that you have to spend millions on fancy equipment. Here are five affordable ways that allow you to reserve your precious human resources for the type of work that they do best.

1. Automate the Customer Connection

Nothing replaces personal contact with your customers, but that contact can be enriched if you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system to store business and personal information about your business contacts. After installing a CRM system, you can receive reminders that help predict when a customer will need to place new orders, identify cross-selling opportunities and even take a personal approach by knowing the names of spouses and children before you pick up the phone.

2. Handle Common Tasks on Schedule

If your company operates in a Microsoft Windows environment (which is a client of mine), you already have Task Scheduler within the Administrative Tools of your operating system. This tool lets you run any type of software task that you now run manually based on date or time, whenever a computer starts up or based on any trigger, such as running a program to automatically generate all paperwork when a customer initiates a product return. The Task Scheduler wizard makes it easy to schedule some tasks without a great degree of technical knowledge, but others may require assistance from someone who understands more about how Windows events work.

3. Answer Basic Customer Questions Automatically

It is impossible to over-stress the importance of remaining readily available to respond personally to customer questions or concerns. Still, customers’ time is valuable. When they can quickly get answers online without picking up the phone or even sending a text message, they may see this as the best experience of all. It is easy to add a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to your website to provide the quick answers that many customers need. To keep it fresh and helpful, keep monitoring phone calls for the questions that you receive frequently and add them to your FAQ page on a regular basis.

4. Provide Customers with Additional Online Conveniences

Naturally, retail product vendors want to offer online shopping carts that customers can use day or night without the need for human contact. But service businesses and their customers can also benefit by offering another type of convenience when they need to periodically interact to get a job done. Online collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 provide many ways to establish an effective working partnership between your clients and your employees.

One of the key aspects of this tool is file sharing. You retain full control over who can see your files and what they can do with them. When a number of people edit the files, the software makes sure that no one overwrites prior changes, while also ensuring that all users see the most recent changes. Even users across the globe can keep projects moving forward within their own time zones without the need to wake anyone at 3:00 in the morning.

5. Handle Repetitive and Dangerous Tasks

Just the thought of introducing robotics into a small business factory setting is likely to cloud your vision with dollar signs. But, machines that cost as little as $20,000 (plus maintenance and other necessary costs) might avoid even higher labor costs. Why pay wages for people to count and package widgets when they can be trained to perform more important and interesting tasks? Even more important, robots can take on tasks that commonly injure employees. Your workers stay safe, they have fewer days off due to injury and you even benefit with lower workers’ compensation claims experience.

Caution: Automation Can Be Addictive

Once you start achieving efficiency through automation, you will probably keep looking for more and more ways to pare down your daily operations. You can even add a single-cup brewer to automate your waiting room while providing visitors with a choice of wait-time beverages. But there is no need to join an automation addiction support group because efficiency is good for business health.


Mondays with Mike: The Secret To Being More Productive

To Do ListWe’re positively obsessed with productivity.  We all want to do more in less time with better results.  We look for ways to be more efficient, more effective, and more profitable, all while trying to preserve some time for our lives outside work.  Should you doubt that we’re obsessed with effeciency, simply enter “productivity” on Amazon, and you’ll be inundated with a slew of books, tools, and products designed to make you more productive.

The problem is that much of the productivity stuff out there is really just a sales pitch.  An author is trying to sell you a book.  A calendar company is trying to sell you a new planner, or a business guru is trying to get you to subscribe to his videos teaching you how to manage your time better.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working out my own system for boosting my productivity, and I’m about to give it away to you.  Why?  Because it’s so damn simple and so damn effective.  My two-part technique will help you do more work in less time, and it doesn’t cost you a cent, nor does it require any fancy gadgets.

First of all, you must unplug.  Now, calm down.  I don’t mean from everything forever.  What I mean is you must eliminate those things that are the chief, proven culprits of time suckage.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Instagram.  YouTube.  While all of these social media giants can genuinely be legitimate business tools, when you’re sitting down to work through your to-do list, they’re your enemies.

Turn.  Them.  Off.

Even your email can be a distraction if you’re constantly checking it and finding yourself derailed every time you send off a quick reply.  Checking email periodically, rather than constantly can permit you the time to focus and work more efficiently, rather than stopping, dealing with email, then finding your place and remembering what you were working on before getting back down to it.  Reduce your distractions, and you’re more productive.

The second part of my technique deals with prioritizing your daily tasks.  The only tools you need are paper, pen, and highlighter.  Sit down with your piece of paper, draw a line creating two columns, one narrow and one wide.  In the wide column, list all the tasks you need to accomplish, in whatever order they occur to you.

Once you have your tasks listed, use the narrow column to mark each task with a symbol.  Tasks that will generate revenue within the next thirty days get a dollar sign in the column.  Tasks that will serve the needs of an existing client get smiley faces.  Tasks that both generate revenue and satisfy a client get both a dollar sign and a smiley face.  Tasks that accomplish neither of these goals are left blank.

You start working through your list with the projects that have both dollar signs and smiley faces.  As you start each task, highlight it (so you know where you were in case of interruptions,) and when it’s finished you cross that item off the list.  Yay, you!  Next you move on to smiley face tasks, then you tackle the dollar signs.  Only when you’ve satisfied existing customers and generated revenue, do you move on to the other tasks on your list.  You’re working through your day in the most productive way possible.

Real productivity doesn’t require gadgets or how-to books.  Becoming more efficient means filtering out the distractions and working on your real priorities.


How to Ensure that Email Doesn’t Suck the Life Out of Your Business

4-10 to many emails smallRemember when email was fun?  We used to delight in hearing those three little words, “You’ve got mail”.  But nowadays, email has become one of the biggest time sucks in business.

Unless you hone your habits, email (and texting, for that matter) can consume countless hours of your business day. Here are four habits that can help you retain control of your inbox and focus more time growing your business.

1. Follow the Touch Once Rule

This rule dates back to the olden days, when the U.S. Postal Service delivered mountains of envelopes every day. The key to efficiency was to open the envelope, look at the contents, and then immediately take action. The junk mail went into the recycling bin, while the important things either got passed on to someone else or, at the very least, into the to-do bin for immediate action.

Email is no different, except that you don’t have to deal with envelopes. If a message requires action, take that action right now, forward it to the proper person or put it on your electronic calendar or to-do list. Everything else goes into your email trash bin.

2. Make “Safe” Unsubscribe Your Best Friend

This recommendation comes with a warning: done incorrectly, you could actually become buried in spam, when it only came up to your knees before you started unsubscribing. Many spammers initially take a guess at your email address. Once your unsubscribe message confirms that address, they pass it along to other spammers.

Still, using the unsubscribe link in a message from a reputable business can substantially cut down the number of email messages that you receive every day. For the rest of them, just mark them as spam to get them out of your inbox and into the junk mail folder, where they belong.

3. Stay True to Your Own Schedule

As a small business owner, you have to tread a fine line between remaining committed to your daily schedule and being responsive to customer needs. But you’re not an emergency room doctor — even business crises can wait an hour or two before gaining your time and attention.

Some people absolutely want to know first thing in the morning if anything requires immediate attention. If your curiosity is so strong that it prevents you from meeting your obligations, you may need to take a look before you start your day. Most people become more efficient, however, when they hold off on the email until later in the day.

Regardless of when you take that first peek, further email activity should be scheduled into your day. Your planned activities are just as important (probably more so) than constantly checking the mail. Limit the number of times that you check email to avoid interrupting other scheduled work. And you probably should turn off the audio and visual email notifications to avoid temptation.

4. Recognize that Not Every Message Requires a Reply

Every conversation has to end at some point and you don’t always have to get the last word. Once the back-and-forth stops being productive, it has gone on too long. So, when customer messages tell you that the problem is solved — or just say “thank you,” maybe they’ll be even more appreciative if you do not respond.

There are civil ways to stop the madness. For example, if you need to keep someone informed, just tell them that your message is for information only and no response is necessary. And if you use an auto-responder that replies to all incoming email, make sure that it politely states that you will respond only when a response is required.

While good email habits are a must, do not waste time trying to achieve perfection (aka achieving “inbox zero”). Even with good email habits, you’ll probably never completely empty your inbox — the cyber world just doesn’t work that way. Your true goal should be to avoid losing important communications while gaining back valuable time. With any luck, your email recipients will follow your example until good email habits abound across the world.


How to Do Multitasking Right

1-8 multi-tasking smallIn most cases, multitasking only accomplishes one thing: it gets more things done poorly. However, there is a way to do multitasking that can increase productivity.

When running a small business, everyone and everything demands your attention all at once. With so much to do against so many distractions, it’s amazing that anything gets accomplished well. The answer can be multitasking, but it’s important to clarify what multitasking should be and just what can never ever happen.

If you are constantly shifting back and forth between tasks or allowing interruptions to determine what gets done, you are doing multitasking wrong. This type of activity has been reported to cause as much as a 40% reduction in productivity. Not surprisingly, it also increases the incidents of mistakes and errors.

While people shouldn’t perform several tasks at once, they can manage several tasks at one time. Multitasking should be thought of as a system for being able to make quick decisions about the importance and sequence of tasks, and then proceeding to complete those focused tasks efficiently.

Here are steps for doing multitasking right:

  1. Prioritize. Make a short list of the things to be accomplished (five or less) and which needs to be accomplished first.
  2. Organize. Once tasks are prioritized, decide which tasks on the list can actually be done together. This is efficient and saves more time than starting and stopping different activities. For example, instead of calling four prospects at random times throughout the day, set aside two hours to make the four 30 minute phone calls back-to-back. Also, checking email only two to four times a day is more productive then looking at each notification.
  3. Focus. Complete the task at hand and don’t think of all the other things that need to get done. Block out all other interruptions. Everything should be on the prioritized to-do list and out of mind until the more important tasks are complete. 
  4. Finish what you start. Going back and forth between tasks wastes time because it ends up being more difficult to complete the task when you try to go back to it. Aim to finish the task, in one or two work sessions, before moving on to another one.
  5. Delegate. There is a certain point where not even operating at 100 percent efficiency can get everything done. It’s important to recognize as soon as you can’t do everything yourself. The best course of action is to delegate your tasks to employees and other outside resources.

This is what multitasking should look like. The sooner you stop doing multiple things at once and start managing multiple things at once, the better off your businesses will be and the more you will actually get done. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

As a veteran of more late nights than I can count, I’d give anything if there were just a few more hours in each day to get work done. But short of adding time to the clock, there are some ways small business owners can accomplish more in less time. Here are five ideas to try.

  1. Come in late or leave early. Many small business owners get more done working at home, where they aren’t juggling meetings, clients and pop-in employees all day. It’s perfectly legit to come in late or leave early to get some work done at home before or after normal work hours. Just make sure once you’re in the office, you focus on helping your team with what they need.
  2. Minimize email. Lessen your email burdens by sending fewer emails in the first place, and keeping those you do send super-short. Forward less-important emails to an assistant (real or virtual) to handle. (Even better, have the assistant sort through your emails in the first place and only send you the important ones.) Create shortcuts or templates with your most-common replies instead of typing the same thing dozens of times a day. When you see “reply all” email chains getting out of hand, nip it in the bud.
  3. Delegate. Many small business owners work long hours because they can’t let go. Employees welcome the chance to learn and take tasks off your plate—that’s what they’re there for. Start small with simple tasks and build up to the big things.
  4. Automate. Use technology to do what it does best: save you time. Store documents and data in the cloud to eliminate endless hunts for files. Synch your desktop, laptop and mobile devices so you always have access to the same information no matter where you are. Cut back on tedious tasks like scanning, faxing and sorting receipts by using smartphone apps to speed these chores.
  5. Take breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking frequent, short breaks makes the time you do spend working more productive so you can get more done in less time. A recent study said those who work intensely for 52 minutes and then take 17 minutes breaks are more productive than those trying to muscle through without taking breaks. Use that break time to walk around the office checking in on your staff. Don’t spend that brain-break on your computer—that won’t refresh your mind the same way physical movement and real-world interaction will. 

Clock hanging in modern railway station


7 Content Marketing Rules to Break

Content marketing is the way to stay in front of small business prospects to showcase expertise. There is a lot of advice on how to do this that is just plain wrong.

For example, here are seven content marketing rules to break:

Rule 1: Send a monthly newsletter to tell customers and prospects about multiple topics they may be interested in. How to break the rule: Send one subject emails to highlight one relevant piece of advice. In this way, the customer will read it quickly and the company will get the brand reinforcement they want. It now takes 21 brand reminders for a prospect to remember the brand.

Rule 2: Don't mix education messages with selling ones. Content marketers advise the company to split out theses two types of messages. How to break the rule: Always be up selling. Condition the audience to always be expecting offers from the company while they are being educated. This will result in more sales annually.

Stocksy_txp47ea4fcagK5000_Small_192861Rule 3: Always be part of the online social media conversation in the company's area of expertise. How to break the rule: Only participate when the company has something useful to say and can contribute value to the conversation. While this should be consistent, a company does not need to be part of every conversation on every platform and website. This will result in being productive, not just busy.

Rule 4: Pre-program posts in advance so they systematically appear throughout the day.  How to break the rule: This can be dangerous because a company could have pre-programmed posts about getting rust off a car and the news of the day is that one of the big car companies filed for bankruptcy! Be part of what is relevant.

Rule 5: Don't measure the outcome because this type of marketing takes a long time. How to break the rule: All marketing needs to be measured for results. If there are no results, do not invest in it. Think of what success looks like before starting a content marketing strategy.

Rule 6: Leave the review process to customers to post. How to break the rule: Some customer sets will naturally post comments on social media sites. Other customers need to be solicited by the company to encourage reviews and references. Don't be afraid to just ask.

Rule 7:  One size fits all. One piece of content can be shared in its same firm across multiple sites and platforms.  How to break the rule: Customize the content to fit the site. Emphasize quick advice or wit on Twitter. Use pictures or video on Facebook. Highlight the post 's educational nature on LinkedIn. Show it in a series of pictures on Pinterest.

What content marketing rules do you break?


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How Do Your Employees Really Feel About the 24/7 Workplace?

Is your small business using technologies that enable employees to stay connected to work even outside of work hours? If so, are you concerned your employees might feel overloaded by the need to check in with work when they’re off the clock?

Well, stop worrying. According to a recent Gallup Poll of full-time U.S. employees, nearly 80 percent of them feel somewhat or very positive about being able to use computers and/or mobile devices to stay connected to their jobs outside of normal working hours.

???????????????????????????????????A cynic would say perhaps one reason so many people feel good about being able to check in with work after-hours is that most of them don’t actually do it. About one-third (36 percent) frequently connect with work online after-hours, while 64 percent admit to doing so occasionally, rarely or not at all. (Apparently, they just like knowing the option is available.)

However, don’t be so cynical just yet. The study also reveals that 86 percent of those who regularly check in with work of their own accord, and 81 percent of those whose employers require them to do so, think it’s a positive development.

Of course, employees like being able to connect with their jobs outside regular working hours because it enables them to do things like attend their children’s school functions, take time off or work flexible hours. But work-life balance can quickly tip out of balance, as every small business owner knows from experience.

How can you ensure that the ability to work after-hours continues to have an upside for your team? Here are 3 tips:

  • Pay attention. If you notice employees seem like they’re starting to burn out, grumble or complain, assess what’s going wrong. Sometimes the ability to check in 24/7 can lead to a compulsion to do so.
  • Encourage downtime. Make sure employees have “disconnect” time to recharge their personal batteries by unplugging from their devices. Model this behavior yourself.
  • Pull back. Even if you require employees to be available and check in after normal work hours, try to set reasonable limits. For example, you could say that employees must be available up until 10 p.m and after 7 a.m. Even if employees have to be available 24/7, try staggering that responsibility so everyone gets some days off. 

Mondays with Mike: Productivity Killers – Apps You Should Prohibit in the Office

I don’t consider myself a dictator, but I do operate on the principle that no one cares about my company as much as I do.  I keep up on current research, and I’ve experimented with ways to boost my own productivity, and one thing is certain:  there are applications that have NO business in your workplace.  Assuming that you don’t run your office in order to entertain your employees, here are some apps that you absolutely must banish from the office:

  1. social-mediaSocial Media.  Facebook., Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr … not a single one of these apps belongs in your office (with the possible exception of the staff who handles social media for your company.)  They’re colossal time-suckers, and in addition to offering your staff games, quizzes, and celebrity news to occupy their work time, these platforms also offer a window into your office that you can’t control.  Do you want your competitors knowing that your customer service reps have the highest Candy Crush scores in the industry?  These apps – used on company time – provide absolutely zero benefit to your business.
  2. Media Players.  While it’s technically possible to come up with a legitimate business reason you might need YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Google Play on your computers, the odds are much greater that these apps will be used to divert your staff’s attention from their work.  Don’t make it harder than it already is for your staff to stay focused.  Have your IT folks block these apps from your company computers.
  3. Addictive Games.  The aforementioned Candy Crush, as well as Angry Birds, Words with Friends, the notorious Flappy Bird – all of these games are expressly designed to keep us playing longer than we’d planned.  While we all need breaks in order to stay productive, it’s much better to stand up, walk around, and get a change of scenery, rather than wasting half an hour trying to match up candies on a smartphone.  Games like these do not belong in the office.  ßSee the period?
  4. Illegal Sites.  It should go without saying, but prohibiting your staff from accessing pornography and gambling sites from the computers you own is just common sense.  Not only are these sites productivity slayers, but they also often contain illegal material that you could be prosecuted for.  Head these problems off before they start.
  5. Interoffice Chat and Text.  Now you may balk at this one, but I’ve found that almost never have these apps made my staff more productive.  You not only run the risk of your message not being conveyed as clearly as it could be by simply walking down the hall and delivering it in person, but you also wind up with off topic material that distracts your employees from their work.  An icon that chimes each time a new message comes in is a distraction that requires recovery and refocusing time to overcome.  Just eliminate it altogether.

Employee satisfaction is hugely important to me and other successful entrepreneurs who know that keeping good people on staff is cost effective.  What I’ve learned, though, is that while you may ruffle a few feathers by banning Facebook in the office, it’s always worth it.  If you’re serious about pushing your staff to produce work they’re proud of, you’ll be able to create that culture by banishing unwanted distractions.    


Keeping Your Business Organized Whether You’re a “Piler” or a “Filer”

Stocksy_txp4883eb03663000_Small_53161Take a tour of any office and you are likely to see some immaculate desks and others covered with stacks of papers.  But don’t assume that the neat desks belong to more organized people than the messy ones.  The appearance of a desk often has little to do with how well-organized a person may be (which is good news for me, given that my desk looks like a war zone…).

Your personal sense of organization may depend on something called brain hemispheric dominance.  People controlled more by the left sides of their brains tend to rely heavily on logic.  As long as you can find things when you need them, a clean desk surface typically means that you are left-brained.  If you keep piles of paper on your desktop, your right brain is probably in control.

Regardless of whether you are a “filer” or a “piler”, running a business requires you to find information quickly, successfully manage deadlines and meet all accounting and legal requirements. But fighting your natural tendencies leads to disorganization.  You need to embrace your personality type and use the following tips to develop a system that works for you.

The Pilers’ Motto– Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you are right-brain dominant, filing important information in a drawer often amounts to losing it forever. This doesn’t mean that you are more forgetful than anyone else, but keeping items in view provides the visual cues that you need to stay organized.  Take comfort in the famous quote from Albert Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”  Then, use the following concepts to keep your stacks under control while easing the minds of co-workers who cannot tolerate the seeming disarray:

  • Using file folders is still important:  When a stack of labeled folders replaces a stack of loose papers on your desk, the papers look neater and corresponding information stays together.  Plus, the labels provide a better visual cue, enhancing your productivity.
  • Add visibility to the clutter: Multi-tiered vertical desktop organizers are a great way to keep folders in front of you.  They are neat, they let you see exactly what’s in them with a quick glance and they free up surface area so that you can do your work more easily.
  • Keep appearances in mind:  Face it —customers visiting your office can lose confidence in your abilities if they see you surrounded by clutter.  Not to mention that new accountant you want to hire is likely to quote you a higher rate if he or she expects to deal with excess confusion.  Use attractive systems and color coding to illustrate organizational skills.

For Filers, a Cluttered Desk Equals a Cluttered Mind

For left-brain dominant people, any excess clutter can draw focus away from the task at hand.  Your natural instinct is to create elaborate file systems organized by categories and subcategories.  You keep files on the desk only when you need them and get them out of sight as soon as you’re done.  But too much organization can affect efficiency, so keep these points in mind:

  • Avoid over-categorization: Keep information that you use at one time together.  If you need to extract 20 related file folders just to get through the day’s invoicing, you’ll lose efficiency shuffling through the paperwork — and lose key information in the process.
  • Keep related items together with color: If you can’t resist splitting items into multiple chunks, use a color coding system.  You are less likely to overlook important paperwork if you pull out all green-labeled folders when you do the daily invoicing.
  • Stay organized while away from the office: As you go on sales calls or visit vendors, important notes are likely to get lost without some organizational system.  Shop around until you find a daily planner book, an electronic organizing system or a smart phone app that lets you  organize every random thought in a way that permits you to recall it instantly when you need it.

So, pile or file away using a method that will keep you organized in a way that is consistent with your strengths and preferences.




 
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