13 Powerful Productivity Tips for Small Businesses

03/06/2015 08:08 am ET | Updated May 06, 2015

This is part of the Digital Marketing Insights series -- featuring tips, analysis and recommendations from marketing experts on how to become successful online. Co-authored by Reda Sedrati, CEO of Cloudswave.

Workplace productivity, production and staff efficiency -- there's a reason why, online or offline, efficiency and productivity never run out of press coverage. If there's one factor that can singlehandedly solidify the reputation and revenue-generating potential of a business, it's efficiency, which, according to Merriam Webster Online, is the "ability to do something or produce something without wasting materials, time, or energy."

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Productivity, on the other hand, is defined by the same resource as the "state of being productive," where productive means "doing or achieving a lot, or working hard and getting good results."

There are certain productivity/efficiency techniques that can easily be incorporated in day-to-day small business operations to help you achieve your goals of success. Below are 13 of them:

  1. Set realistic goals

The first rule in every endeavor is to keep one's feet firmly planted on the ground even when reaching for sky-high goals. This is akin to aiming high but never losing sight of reality, or you just might take notice of it the hard way by failing.

As a rule of thumb, goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). In other words, they have to be concrete, grounded on reality, set within a timeframe, and include milestones for both the short and longer terms. Plus, it pays to keep the focus on what could be done instead of what could not be done.

Software like Goalscape lets you visually define your goals and keep track of their progress.

  • Make realistic estimates
  • Being positive and being overly optimistic are two different things. While the former encourages business owners to approach every angle with reasonable optimism, doing so based on unrealistic estimates would be a huge mistake.

    Going into business requires prior research and a reasonable amount of pencil-pushing. Having a clear idea of the expected upfront investment and the profitability timeline are just two of several important initial steps. Estimates should include the time, money, and effort required to keep the business going, more so in the early stages when it's not yet self-sustaining.

    Setting realistic expectations is easier said than done, so a suitable solution like SEER is a big help.

  • Avoid distractions
  • Distractions are the bane of every productive endeavor. It is therefore important to plan your day ahead of time, as distractions are likely to assault you from every which way the moment you wake up.

    If you find yourself spending too much time on social media instead of focusing on the work at hand, install apps like Freedom or Anti-Social to always keep you in the zone.

  • Don't multitask
  • If you're a freelancer working from home, don't juggle work and the laundry, or work and the dirty kitchen just because you're home anyway. Checking your Twitter feed while creating a proposal for a prospect may make you seem busy, but being busy and actually getting things done aren't one and the same.

    You may think you're good at multitasking, but research has proven that multitasking is a surefire productivity killer -- even a cause for catastrophe.

  • Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
  • Set your priorities so you know which ones justify your immediate attention. Learn to delegate tasks that can be as effectively done by other people. Also, people are normally fully rested upon waking up.

    While you have the strength, time, and disposition, it's prudent to deal with the most important tasks first.

  • Take good care of your health
  • "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" goes a popular adage that rings so true. No matter how willing you are to work, you can't if you are sick or perennially exhausted. Keep your mind and body fit so you're always at your best.

  • Set deadlines
  • There is something about deadlines that incite people to work rather than stall. Tasks done on time (or earlier) give you more wiggle room to anticipate changes before it's too late. Software like DropTask has a time-tracking feature to manage your schedule and meet deadlines.

  • Group similar tasks together
  • Grouping similar tasks together saves you time as you're able to address related concerns at one time. Like in simple, everyday life, repeatedly driving to a convenience store because you keep forgetting something is a total waste of time -- on top of your energy and fuel money -- versus listing everything you need and grabbing them all in one go.

    There is also the advantage of appreciating an issue better because related information are lumped together.

  • Don't check email too often
  • Checking email too often is one of the seemingly harmless things we do in a work day that can be a major distraction. Unless there's a real need for constant checking due to time-sensitive information regularly sent to you via email, schedule a time of day to check your email. If needed, turn off email notifications.

    Resist the temptation to stop doing what you need to do because of activities that can actually wait. Email management software like SaneBox fixes email overload by sorting your emails in terms of priority.

  • Understand your most productive hours
  • Not everybody is a morning person. Some work best during the latter hours of the day. Others find they focus better in the dead of night or the wee hours of the morning. Once you've come to terms with your body's natural rhythms, organize a timetable around those.

  • Don't procrastinate
  • If it needs to be done, there is no better time than now. MindTools suggests three steps to overcome procrastination:

    -- Admit that you're procrastinating.
    -- Understand why you're procrastinating.
    -- Adopt anti-procrastination strategies. An example includes identifying the negative consequences of not getting a task done.
    -- Stop Procrastinating is an Internet and website blocker so you're distraction-free when you need to focus.

  • Use the Pomodoro technique
  • The Pomodoro technique is a time management method that essentially uses a timer to break down work into several intervals. Each interval consists of 25 minutes of work followed by a short break. It espouses the idea that human mental agility is highly improved with frequent breaks. Longer breaks are encouraged after four pomodori or intervals.

    My Timeboxing software, for example, follows this idea. Strict Workflow for Chrome is an add-on you can use to block out certain websites while your 25 minutes of work time is ongoing.

  • Just show up
  • The mere act of showing up for work despite not feeling like it is a giant step towards productivity. Being where the action is can be the catalyst to getting rid of self-doubt, jitters, and even simple laziness. Commit yourself to a task or activity for just five minutes, and you just might find it's all you need to actually get started.

    Final word

    When all is said and done, your success will depend on how willing and determined you are to make it. There are tools to more easily manage your business, but productivity is never an accident. It is the result of life and productivity strategies founded on good practices and a can-do attitude.