Walk up to any business owner and ask, “How have you been?” or “How’s life?” and there’s a good chance their response will include the word “busy.”
We live in a culture that sees full schedules and workloads as a type of status symbol. The busier you are… well, the better you might be in the eyes of your social circles.
Regardless of whether this is a good or a bad thing, that’s the reality today’s retail entrepreneur needs to face. There’s still only 24 hours in a day — but somehow, you need to fit more in than ever before.
And that means you need be as productive as possible if you want to keep up.
The problem is, you might be attempting to manage your out-of-control to-do lists with actions that kill productivity.
No, this isn’t another listicle of “101 best hacks to supercharge your working hours.” You don’t need that.
What you do need to know about productivity includes the kind of actions that work against you, the most common productivity killers, and what you can do as a retail entrepreneur to get just a little more done each day. So, here’s how you can identify the drains on your day.
Busy Versus Productive: Learning the Difference
The first thing to understand are the kinds of actions you take in an effort to be productive, but that actually backfire.
Multitasking might be the one entrepreneurs cling most dearly to. Business owners tend to suffer from “Superhero syndrome,” or the idea that they can do everything that needs to happen in their business — and they can do it better than anyone else.
As a result, you end up with a full plate. You may try to juggle multiple things at once to accomplish as much as possible in a set period of time.
While you may be an incredible retailer, the idea that you can do it all on your own, all the time, simply isn’t true. And the idea that you can get more done by toggling back and forth between your tasks? Not the case, either.
Studies have shown that you may get a marginal benefit by multitasking with a few related tasks. But as the amount of multitasking rises, the benefits steeply decline.
Not only that, but you actually become slower at completing the tasks than you would be by taking on one at a time.
You may also be tempted to get more done by simply working more and skipping meals or breaks. This backfires, too, because your brain’s ability to focus and think creatively isn’t endless.
Taking breaks allows your brain to reset and recharge. But skipping them drives up stress and eats away at both your mental and physical energy.
And if you’re skipping sleep in order to work more, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. Not getting enough sleep leads to a whole host of performance-killing issues.
You need both breaks and enough sleep in order to function at your highest level and produce your best work. Skipping either makes you more ineffective, which defeats the purpose of trying to push through exhaustion or fit in more work in the first place.
Learn to Spot and Eliminate Other Productivity Killers
There are a number of actions you might not intentionally take, but that nevertheless wear down on your ability to be productive. Interruptions and distractions that pull you away from the task at hand destroy your ability to get things done.
Why? It takes 25 minutes to “recover” from an interruption, meaning you need almost a full half-hour to refocus and settle back into what you were working on.
And yes, meetings count as interruptions. Place meetings at the beginning or end of your day so they’re not spread throughout your schedule and serving as a source of constant distractions. Or eliminate them as much as possible.
Schedule Specific Time for Tasks
You can also make sure meetings — or any tasks — aren’t overly long. Instead of scheduling hour-long meetings or phone calls, limit them to 15 or 30 minutes.
With tasks, do the same: Instead of giving yourself half the day to complete a project, give yourself 2 hours.
If you set a strict time limit and clearly define the time you’re giving to a task, you’ll likely find you can stay within that time frame. That’s thanks to Parkinson’s Law, or the idea that work expands to fill the time it’s given.
Giving yourself a day to complete something means it will likely take you all day to do it. Limiting yourself to a few hours can increase your productivity, because you’ll get it done faster.
Be Specific With Your To-Do List
Ambiguity works against productivity, too. That means a vague to-do list isn’t an effective one.
Think about it: Would you immediately know what to do if you wrote yourself a task that simply said, “Call Mike?”
Why are you calling? When? What phone number do you need to use? Is Mike calling you or are you calling Mike? What do you need to do to prepare for the call, if anything?
You need to find all the answers to these questions before you call, which takes time and energy. It would be much easier to include this information when you set yourself the task.
Or think about a big project you have, like “launch a new product line.” That is extremely ambiguous and provides you with no direction whatsoever — and makes that task completely overwhelming because it’s not broken down with details and subtasks.
Ambiguity welcomes procrastination and prevents you from simply sitting down and getting to work when you’re ready to complete a task. Avoid it!
Use a Few Strategies for Increased Productivity
Retail entrepreneurs don’t have the same working environment as 9-to-5 desk jockeys, so many common productivity “hacks” don’t apply. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a few tricks and tips to squeeze a little more out of each work day.
Look at Improving Office Productivity
While working on administrative and back-office tasks, increase how much you can get done by:
- Manage your time wisely. There are dozens of different strategies and methods to help you accomplish this. Test out a few and choose one that works for you. Then stick to it. Options include the Pomodoro technique, the Seinfeld strategy, or the “Getting Things Done” approach.
- Automate. Use processes and systems that can automatically send email campaigns or discounts to your list, or follow up on order shipments and deliveries.
- Outsource what you can. If you’re constantly behind, feeling frazzled, or are simply overworked, it may be time to expand your team. That could mean hiring more people to sell on the floor, workers to fulfill orders and manage inventory, or even a personal assistant to help with your tasks. If you’re not ready to hire a full-time employee, remember that you can always hire freelancers or contractors to help you get more done.
Tighten Up Your Entire Day
The times you actually sit down at a desk and work may be minimal. When you’re out and about, keep these tips in mind:
- Schedule everything. Don’t leave things to chance if you want to get them done. Block off time in your calendar and get it done when you said you would.
- Batch your tasks (or appointments). You can get more done if you schedule similar errands or meetings together. Retain tight control over your calendar and try and set up meetings in the same area on the same day and either all in the morning or all at night. If you need to visit various locations, plan your route ahead of time so you can choose the most efficient way to get around.
- Eliminate as many meetings as you can. Meetings kill productivity more often than not. Communicating via email allows you to respond on your time, when it works best for you (which is, preferably, not in the middle of a productive work day). If you can’t get out of a meeting, try to set up a phone call or even a video call first. This reduces the need to commute anywhere, which saves time that you can use to tackle your to-do list.
Encourage Your Employees to Work Productively
As a retail entrepreneur, you can’t focus on just you: you have an entire team that might need a little motivation to increase productivity. Here’s how you can encourage your employees:
- Pay them appropriately. Money isn’t the best motivator for everything, but it does play a role. Employees who receive reasonable compensation for their positions, considering their responsibilities and experience, are more likely to produce more and higher quality work than those who feel underpaid and undervalued.
- Give them the tools they need to perform well. Employees aren’t going to be productive if they’re dealing with outdated systems, glitchy technology, or a lack of resources. Operate with the latest point-of-sale systems, update tools and software on a regular basis, and give your team access to training and information that empowers them to succeed.
- Recognize your productive employees. Praising and rewarding workers who rise to the challenge of getting just a little more done should be acknowledged for their efforts. It helps keep that team member motivated — and could inspire others to increase their productivity, too.
How Will You Boost Your Productivity?
Perhaps the most important thing for any retail entrepreneur to know about productivity is that the little gains really add up to big results.
You don’t have to compress your current 10-hour workday into four hours by the end of next week. Try one idea at a time and aim for a 1% increase in your and your team’s effectiveness every day. A slight edge can turn into a major advantage over time.