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Running a business

Creative Ways to Increase Productivity

Happy, healthy employees are productive employees. It may seem counter-intuitive on paper, but in practice, regular work breaks and shorter work days can actually boost productivity in the long run. Keeping stress low and employee morale high can improve both the quality and quantity of work they produce. Consider various creative ways to get more out of your employees to help your bottom line.

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Enforce Regular Breaks

You likely have a set number of breaks in your work policies, but do your employees actually take them? Skipping breaks or working through your lunch at your desk denies your brain the rest it needs to refresh and stay focused.

By making sure your employees take regular breaks, you help them stay at their best, which can result in greater productivity. You might set a scheduled break time for all employees to make sure no one skips out. Maybe you all meet outside for some fresh air or gather in the break room for small talk. Those breaks can help your workforce in many ways.

Reduces Stress for Better Health

Excessive stress can manifest itself physically, which can leave your employees feeling under the weather and can even lead to more sick days. Even one day’s absence can put important projects behind schedule, which is why maintaining a healthy workplace is critical. While it may not seem like a major factor, allowing employees to take regular breaks creates a more relaxed, positive work environment.

When you look at the bigger picture, the long-term mental and physical health benefits are undeniable. In fact, you may even want to consider implementing required breaks for employees who regularly push themselves to the point of exhaustion to encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Revitalizes the Mind for Optimal Results

It’s possible to work too hard, especially if you’re self-employed. When you make your own schedule, it’s easy to let your work consume you. Even in a traditional workplace setting, many employees become so engrossed in their duties that they forget to rest their brains. The problem is that constant stimulation can make your mind start to go numb.

Just taking a few minutes to step back from a project can revitalize your mind and allow you to come back with renewed clarity and sharpness. When you return, you might even have new insights and ideas that your brain just needs to process. Physically standing up also gets blood flowing and oxygen to your brain, allowing you to operate at your full capacity.

Fosters a Positive Work Environment

Whether you’re a freelancer or a CEO, your work environment directly affects your company’s overall productivity. From your decor and furniture to the people you hire, every factor plays a role in the overall culture of your business.

Allowing occasional breaks is an easy way to show your employees that you appreciate them. It makes them feel like they belong to an organization that genuinely cares about more than just the bottom line. When people are happy with their work environments, they naturally work harder because they want to, not because they have to.

Improve Communication About Breaks

Many employees force themselves to work through exhaustion simply because they’re too nervous about requesting breaks. On a similar note, self-employed workers often guilt themselves into working past their comfort levels because they feel they have to push themselves. In both situations, honesty with the scheduling manager or with yourself can go a long way in improving the overall results of a project.

When you allow regular breaks, you take some of the burden off workers who aren’t willing to speak up when they need to rest, even if just for a few minutes. Any workplace is going to function far more smoothly when people are comfortable communicating their needs. When you start a conversation, people tend to respond. Simply giving your workers a voice is an effective way to boost morale.

Harness Employee Creativity

With so many technological advancements and changes in the small business scene, it’s more important than ever to set your company apart from the competition. Your employees, especially millennials who’ve had technology at their fingertips all their lives, can help you achieve that differentiation if you encourage their creativity.

When you allow and even encourage your employees to apply their creativity to their work, you may see an increase in productivity. People who feel like their contributions matter are more likely to go beyond your expectations. They take ownership in what they do when they see you welcome their ideas and creativity.

Give Employees Independence

Micromanaging, hand-holding, and constant supervision stifle productivity in the office. Your employees may feel as if nothing they do is correct. They can’t take any ownership over their actions if they don’t have any independence. You likely have standard procedures to follow, and you want your products and services to meet your quality expectations. But if you hire talented employees, you shouldn’t have any worries about setting them free to work independently and make judgment calls along the way.

You might start by offering some general guidance, direction, and expected outcomes to ensure the work satisfies your needs. Then, try letting your employees take the reigns. When they don’t have to stop and run every little decision by you, they can get into a groove and work more efficiently to increase productivity.

Invest in Their Growth

Offering learning opportunities for your employees can have multiple benefits. It can be a big selling point for new hires or to keep your existing employees around. Millennials in particular may be less loyal to a particular company than previous generations, who often stay with one company or industry for the entirety of their careers. Millennials want constant growth and progress, so offering constant training and learning options may encourage them to stick around.

You also benefit by keeping employees current on industry trends and processes, which may help you streamline how you do things. Learning new skills also keeps your staff excited, which may translate into more enthusiasm and greater productivity on the job.

Institute a Meeting-Free Day

Meetings can interfere with workflow, decreasing overall productivity. Regular meeting-free days clear your employees’ calendars to focus on the tasks they need to accomplish, boosting productivity overall. They simplify scheduling, since team members know they always have a clear time to work together on projects.

If you’re encouraging employees to work from home as a way of minimizing commute time or offering the workplace bonus of flex time, meeting-free days align perfectly with those goals. Some workplaces, in fact, have days like “Meeting Monday,” insisting that all the week’s meetings be packed into that one day. As a result, their meetings are insanely productive, with everyone working at top speed and making decisions without unnecessary drag-it-out discussions.

Scheduling a regular meeting-free day can be tougher than you’d expect, thanks to all the time demands placed on you by other people. To make it work, start by blocking off one day-let’s say Thursdays on your calendar. Don’t schedule anything on Thursdays, and don’t let your assistant, team members, or anyone else do so. If you’re the boss, tell your staff that they, too, need to block off Thursdays. If people from outside your workplace want to meet on a Thursday, simply tell them you’re unavailable.

You can amplify your productivity even further by altering your location as well. Maybe Thursday is now the day you work from home or from a nearby coffee shop or co-working space. Plan the work you’re going to do on a meeting-free Thursday, focusing on big projects rather than pesky tasks like cleaning up your email. In fact, you might even want to post your out-of-office messages to block emails as well.

Make Your Meeting-Free Day Productive

Plan for your meeting-free Thursday (or whatever day you choose) to maximize productivity. When you schedule specific projects to work on, as well as tasks to accomplish to advance those projects, you set yourself up for success. If your entire team or workplace experiences a meeting-free Thursday together, make sure everyone’s on the same page, perhaps holding a brief meeting the day before to assign tasks or tweak assignments.

On your meeting-free day, create the most productive environment possible. Encourage employees to bring in their personal playlists and headphones, since music can increase productivity. Allow everyone to work on their own schedule as much as possible, coming in late (or early), setting their own hours, and even taking a prolonged break during the day as long as they complete proposed tasks on schedule.

Shorten Work Hours

Do you feel like you and your employees need to get in a full 40 hours or more per week? Working more hours seems like a logical choice when you want to boost productivity, but working too many hours can leave you feeling exhausted and lacking in focus. You might notice your employees calling in sick more often or showing signs of burnout. If you feel exhausted as the weekend approaches and notice employee productivity waning, consider shortening the number of hours you and your employees work each day.

Implementing a shorter-hours policy that measures output rather than hours to determine success may help improve the quality and quantity of work while keeping your employees happier. For example, if you run a graphic design firm, you might gauge your designers’ productivity by how many projects they complete daily rather than by how many hours they spend at their workstations.

As productivity increases, you don’t have to worry about reducing pay, even though you and your staff might work fewer hours. This option works for salaried employees because they still get the same amount of pay.

Some businesses, such as a corner store or a gaspar, require longer hours for customer convenience and profitability. But other businesses can get away with cutting back hours to accommodate shorter work schedules. Getting your clients on board with your shorter work day could be as simple as posting your new hours of operation.

If your business doesn’t take walk-in clients or customers, you can also schedule a shorter workday around the hours your clients are available. This approach may work well if you run a small company and have just a few employees. Overall, offering your employees a shorter workday reduces stress and encourages them to focus and stay engaged in their work.

Use Software to Streamline Work

When you’re trying to increase productivity, giving your employees the right tools can help. You can use software and apps to automate many tasks that may keep you and your employees tied to the office. For example, entering your client or customer information into a cloud accounting software service lets you automate billing and accounts receivable tasks. Such software can even help focus your email marketing campaigns.

You can use software and apps to simplify team collaboration on projects and streamline social media marketing tasks. A job tracking app can help your employees track time, reducing the amount of time you spend approving time sheets and processing payroll.

Time Banking

If your business pays employees by the hour, you probably have to budget for overtime wages. Rather than paying out overtime wages as employees earn them, you might consider banking on overtime pay. It’s a way for employees to earn time off for overtime hours worked.

Normally, employees who work overtime earn 1.5 times their normal hourly rate for each hour of overtime they work. With banked overtime, the employee earns 1.5 hours of paid time off at their normal hourly rate for each hour of overtime worked. As the term suggests, you “bank” this time in your records. Then, at any point, the employee can request the time to be paid in cash or used as paid time off. This offers your hourly employees more flexibility in how they receive compensation for the extra hours they work.

If you have a busy season in your business where employees end up working lots of overtime, banking overtime can be a huge benefit to both you and the employees. You get all the labour you need when you need it, and employees happily earn paid time off for future use. It’s a win-win.

To start banking overtime, you and the employee should sign a written agreement. Then, any time the employee or employer decides to close the time bank, you pay the employee for all of the hours. This is also true if the employee quits or is fired.

As an example of banked overtime, assume an employee earns $10 per hour. Also assume the employee works six overtime hours a week. Normally, you pay 1.5 x $10 x 6, or $90, of overtime pay. With overtime banking, you instead keep a record of the six overtime hours and covert them to 1.5 x 6, or nine hours of paid time off at $10 per hour. As an expense for you, the business owner, these amounts are the same.

Banking overtime is a great way to let your employees earn paid time off for overtime hours worked. You can get your employees to work lots of overtime hours when you need it most, since they get paid vacation time in the future.

Productivity Tracking

One of the major operating expenses of a small business is that of salaries. You pay your employees for their time and outputs. When you track output from your employees, you see exactly who produces at the highest levels and who may need a little encouragement to increase productivity. Armed with the statistics, you can then find ways to improve overall employee productivity.

One way to track employee productivity is to set up a spreadsheet and record your employees’ output. For example, if you have a retail business, you can track the daily sales of each employee. If your business requires your employees to use a computer for work, you can use a productivity software, such as QuickBooks Time, to track your employees’ productivity. You can also watch for trends in productivity.

You might notice that productivity decreases near the end of the week, for example. Or you might notice a dip in output right after a major project wraps up. For example, if you have an intense quarter-end process, you may see that productivity declines sharply once it’s finished.

Productivity is key to keeping your business growing and profitable. You can track your financial growth with QuickBooks, which offers seamless integration with many different apps that support productivity. The QuickBooks Time app helps freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors track and manage their businesses on the go. Try it free today.

Back: Time Management and Productivity in Your Small Business

Next: How to Improve Team Productivity with Time Tracking

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