There is no shortage of schools of thought, methods, and tech tools to help you get more done during the workday. But what harried small-business owner has the time to drop everything to read and act on the latest business productivity best-seller or download every single productivity app?
Instead, try these tips and tools from productivity experts and your fellow entrepreneurs for prioritizing how to maximize the utilization of your time during business hours.
“One typical piece of ‘time management’ advice that is contrary to effective task management is to try to estimate how long each task on your to-do list will take,” says Maura Thomas, a speaker, productivity trainer, and founder of RegainYourTime. Thomas and other experts agree that most tasks take longer than we think they will. Not only that, Thomas adds, but also “routinely scheduling tasks on your calendar virtually ensures that you will spend more time reorganizing your calendar than actually getting things done.”
Try these five methods — together or individually — for prioritizing tasks and managing your time instead.
1. Use the Eisenhower Box to Prioritize
Jeffrey Camp, president & CEO of insurance services provider OxBonding, emulates 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower and prioritizes his daily tasks into one of four buckets based on a principle known as the Eisenhower Box. The boxes include:
- Urgent and important (do immediately)
- Important but not urgent (schedule to do later)
- Urgent but not important (delegate to someone else)
- Neither urgent nor important (don’t do)
Scott Carpenter, president of cPR Brand Associates in Sarasota, Fla., also recommends that you prioritize tasks based on whether they help you uphold your customer value positioning statement. “If what you do doesn’t further your position or your brand, you need to move on to something more productive that does,” Carpenter says.
2. Get More Done in Sprints Using the Pomodoro Technique
Michelle Nickolaisen, a writer, social media expert, and adviser to creative entrepreneurs recommends using the Pomodoro Technique, which helps you complete tasks by working in timed sprints. “The idea is that you work for 25 minutes and get a 5-minute break afterwards,” Nickolaisen explains. After four sprints you get a longer, 15-minute break.
Software developer Francesco Cirillo, who created the technique, has written a book, and you can find Pomodoro timers online and in app form if you want to use something more sophisticated than a kitchen timer to track your sprints and breaks.
3. Focus Intensely in 90-Minute Sittings for “Purposeful Productivity”
Camille Preston, Ph.D., founder of AIM Leadership and author of Rewired: How to Work Smarter, Live Better, and Be Purposefully Productive in an Overwired World, helps her clients achieve “purposeful productivity” by advising them to work in 90-minute sessions, then take a break.
“Research shows that our brains work best this way,” Preston says. “Focus with intensity, then shift gears and go do something else for 15 minutes … something completely different, so your brain gets a break.”
4. Batch Similar Tasks to Cruise Through Your To-do’s
When she left her 9-to-5 job to start her own business, lifestyle design coach and business productivity expert Erica Duran adopted an approach for completing tasks she calls “batching,” which is essentially blasting through a bunch of similar tasks in one sitting. “When you get into the groove with a certain task, you become more efficient as you go,” Duran says. “But if you stop and start different things, you lose momentum by switching gears.”
5. Tame the Email Beast
Just as Duran might group reading and responding to email in one task batch and paying bills in another, other experts recommend setting limits on and/or only spending certain times of the day on specific activities. Email is a task that many small-business owners find challenging because it has become so time-consuming to manage.
“It can be awfully tempting — and highly distracting — to check email countless times throughout the day,” says Yaniv Masjedi, vice president of marketing at Nextiva, a cloud-based communications provider in Scottsdale, Ariz. Masjedi, who says he is “obsessed with being productive,” uses an email management system called SaneBox to say focused on the task at hand.
This approach works well for Chris Mitlitsky, owner of Automation Playbook, a company that helps small businesses automate their marketing efforts. “I only check my inbox at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each business day,” Mitlitsky says. “I tell all of my clients this and it sets their expectations on when they will hear back from me.”
Mitlisky keeps his inbox svelte using a “touch it once” approach. “When I open up an email, I will read it, respond to it, and then delete it. I will never mark it as unread or revisit it 10 times.”
Want more productivity tips? Join Mike Williams, Craig Jarrow, and Mark Shead in our upcoming online roundtable where they’ll share their own tips for improving your ability to get more done while staying focused on the right priorities. The roundtable will be webcast on July 23, so register now!