HR Insights 6 min

Hack Your Productivity for Small Business Success

June 8, 2020

When you’re running a small business, productivity levels can make a big difference in overall profitability. Unfortunately, most workers only spend about 27 percent of their time on skilled tasks—the duties you hired them for. The majority of their time is spent on busywork or lost to distractions. And if the time they spend actually doing valuable work is unproductive due to delays and inefficiencies, you don’t just lose out in business performance but in employee engagement, too.

While you can’t add extra time to the workday, you can certainly find ways to make the most of the hours you and your employees spend on the job by prioritizing tasks and giving your employees the right tools and training. Let’s look at how productivity hacks and automation of tedious tasks help you make the most of your available resources.

The Importance of Productivity in Small Business

Increasing productivity helps your business grow and thrive. Whether you’re trying to maximize production or want to improve your service bookings, improving productivity opens the door to:

  • Increased revenue: When you and your staff are more productive, your business makes more money. According to Harvard Business Review, companies that are 40 percent more productive have operating margins 30 to 50 percent higher than others in their industry. Streamlining processes gives you more time to sell your goods or services, but it also improves customer service. Productive, satisfied employees interact better with customers, helping build the kind of brand loyalty that keeps profits flowing.
  • Growing your business: If you plan on scaling up to add new stores, open a branch office, or increase online sales, a productive workflow makes it possible for you to grow your business. Growth takes a sustainable business model, a clear goal, and sufficient resources. Developing a productive work environment meets the first and third conditions because you’re proven that you’ve built a strong foundation that works and that you can operate effectively.

10 Productivity Hacks for Small Businesses

These productivity hacks will help you and your staff make the most of the time you spend at work. Even simple changes, like developing a routine, can spark significant improvements. So don’t feel like this is just adding more to your to-do list; many productivity hacks are easy to implement.

1. Follow the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule is a theory of productivity whereby 20 percent of your efforts end up producing 80 percent of your results. In a small business setting, you should identify which 20 percent of work tasks provide the most value. For example, if you spend 80 percent of your day in meetings and 20 percent on tasks that produce a profit, you can improve overall productivity by spending more of your time on profit-producing activities and reducing the number of meetings you have each week. Or schedule the most results-driven tasks early in the day, and minimize distractions to avoid wasting energy on less productive matters.

2. Eliminate time wasters

Being productive means staying focused, but it’s impossible to keep your attention on work 100 percent of the time. The biggest time wasters at work are social media and texting, with checking notifications taking up as much as a whole work day’s worth of work per week. You can reduce these distractions by locking your phone in a drawer or shutting off alerts during work hours. Part of the problem may also be the notifications employees get from work apps, like email and instant messaging. Help your employees shut out distractions by allowing them to have deep focus time when they don’t respond to emails, and by batching the time they do spend responding into distinct blocks during the day.

3. Use batching to stay focused

As we just mentioned, batching assigns specific amounts of time to particular tasks. Divide your day into sections and allocate a job to each time slot. This may mean working on research over one section, drafting a proposal during another, and finishing up by organizing your inbox.

Another way to batch tasks is to organize separate time blocks for handling complex duties that require more attention to detail. Scheduling all of your important phone calls just after lunch or dedicating your first hour of work to a top-priority project reduces the need to switch gears and helps you maintain your focus throughout the day.

When blocking out time for batching, aim for 90-minute intervals for each type of task. In a study on elite musicians, chess players, and athletes, Professor K. Anders Ericsson found that uninterrupted practice intervals of 90 minutes resulted in optimal productivity by capitalizing on biological cycles that occur throughout the day. Just remember to schedule short rest breaks between task blocks so you feel refreshed when you tackle the next block on your schedule.

4. Automate as many tasks as possible

Automation is a great equalizer for small businesses since it helps reduce staffing needs and streamlines routine office tasks. From automated payroll processing to online store chatbots, there are plenty of ways to implement technology in your small business.

To determine what you should automate, figure out which tasks are essential to your business and which are low-value, repetitive tasks. Some tasks like coming up with new ideas and solving problems are essential and require human brainpower. However, small tasks that largely stay the same and that take up employees’ attention, like sending an email response for a customer service request, are worth automating. Doing so can help everyone in the office stay focused on the most important, revenue-generating aspects of your business.

5. Outsource what you can’t automate

Automation has its limits. It often can’t handle high levels of complexity and doesn’t provide the human touch that some tasks require. But instead of assigning a regular employee to every item on your to-do list, consider outsourcing. The best tasks to outsource are those that are time-consuming and require expertise, training, or sheer manpower that’s beyond your current hiring budget, such as marketing, accounting, social media management, or customer service calls. Be wary, though, of over-outsourcing; some tasks require intimate understanding of your brand, your processes, or your customers’ needs and are best handled by people close to the organization.

6. Set up collaboration tools for your team

Workplace collaboration tools help your team communicate effectively and remain on task when working toward a shared goal. Less time spent requesting files or asking questions that have already been answered results in a more productive work environment. Software and online platforms that enable chats, video conferencing, task tracking, and document sharing improve productivity by keeping discussions and project materials all in one place.

7. Create a streamlined workflow

Deadlines, to-do lists, and meeting schedules can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t have a clear workflow. Both management and employees benefit from tracking daily tasks and assigning priorities to specific activities. Use project management tools to keep track of your tasks and sort them by priority level. Focusing on the most important assignments first and saving less essential tasks until later in the day or week helps everyone make meaningful progress in the areas that matter most.

8. Create favorable working conditions

Comfortable, pleasant working conditions boost productivity, so put some thought into the design of your work area. While you should encourage your staff to reduce clutter at their desks or workstations, it’s up to you as the business owner to maintain a healthy work environment. Good working conditions include a comfortable temperature, quality indoor air, noise reduction strategies that minimize unwanted sounds, and sufficient lighting in all work areas. Concentrate on optimizing these to reduce any discomfort that might chip away at productivity.

9. Reduce meetings

Unnecessary meetings can wreck office productivity by taking time away from essential tasks and interrupting you when you’re in a groove. And it’s not just in-person meetings––stopping work to call in to a meeting can be as disruptive as leaving your computer to go into a conference room.

In the U.S., 68 percent of professionals say they lose valuable work time to unnecessary or poorly organized meetings. Limit meetings by first determining if the issue can be addressed through email or using other collaborative work programs. If you don’t need an in-person or call-in meeting, don’t have one.

Reducing the time spent in meetings also means appropriately defining the scope and timeline of meetings. Instead of scheduling an hour-long session every week, consider making it a 20-minute session instead, and only hold the meeting or conference call if there is something new to discuss. Create a clear agenda before the meeting starts, and only invite the people who absolutely need to be there in person.

10. Create time for innovation

Employees who pursue their own projects feel happier at work, which makes them more productive in the long run. Build in time for innovation to keep employees creatively engaged. While this may seem like a distraction from your core business goals, enabling employees to pursue micro-projects and take on leadership roles in those ventures builds valuable skills and experience that carry over to everyday tasks. Setting aside a part of each day or week for staff to brainstorm new ideas, try new things, and explore projects that aren’t related to their regular work tasks reinvigorates your employees and brings in new perspectives you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

One Step at a Time

Improving productivity keeps your employees happy, boosts your profits, and sets your small business up for long-term success. But don’t panic––you don’t have to implement all of these productivity hacks at once. Try a few at a time so you can gradually optimize efficiency in your workplace instead of overwhelming employees with a bunch of changes at once.


BigCommerce is a privately held technology company and provides a SaaS ecommerce platform. The company was founded in 2009 and has 600+ employees with headquarters in Austin, Texas. Its features include customer groups and segmentation, search engine optimization (SEO), web hosting, and more.

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