For business owners, time is the biggest commodity besides money, and the phrase “time is money” rings especially true for retail entrepreneurs. After all, you only have 24 hours in a day, so how you utilize that time is vital.
There’s plenty of advice on how to be more productive, most of which is geared toward a general audience. However, in this article, we’ve narrowed it down to the 10 most essential hacks for retailers. These are ones that can be adopted right away and will yield measurable results. You’ll learn how to use the hours of your day more efficiently, save time, and hopefully, make more money.
Start Early And Build Good Habits
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What do Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and former first lady and lawyer Michelle Obama all have in common? They all start their days well before sunrise. They’ve found one of the secrets that’s key to how to be more productive. Countless studies have shown that waking early helps increase productivity, and successful entrepreneurs all over the world swear by it.
Part of the reason why starting your day early is linked to productivity is because you have more willpower earlier in the day. According to an Entrepreneur article, willpower is a muscle that gets fatigued with overuse. As you deal with difficult decisions and people throughout the day, your sense of willpower gets depleted. That explains why most people find it easier to go to the gym in the morning rather than at night.
Of course, becoming a morning person takes time. Like all life-changing habits, it takes time for your mind and body to learn, remember, and do something over and over again. It’s without question that highly successful entrepreneurs live by strict habits, whether it’s learning to meditate, adopting a work uniform, or eating a similar meal at around the same times each day. Habits, once adopted, allow you to think less. They are decisions already made for you so you can focus on bigger, more important tasks, like running your business.
Make To-Do Lists
When you’re multitasking and trying to manage many different tasks, you’ll easily forget something if you don’t write it down. Creating to-do lists are the cornerstones of entrepreneurship. They allow busy retailers to see exactly what needs to be done and how to prioritize them.
You’ve likely heard this time-tested trick on how to be more productive, but there’s a reason many successful entrepreneurs tout to-do lists as life-savers: They work. There are several ways to organize to-do lists. Some people prefer tackling tasks from hardest to easiest. At the start of each day, write down your most daunting, pressing task at the top, and prioritize completing that first before moving onto other parts of the list.
Another method is to make to-do lists in order of importance. What actually threatens your livelihood if it doesn’t get done today? That might be seemingly smaller tasks, like paying an Internet or electricity bill, but if it doesn’t get done, you won’t be able to run your business.
When creating to-do lists, it’s important to break down bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones in order for that list to be effective. Similar to writing down goals, it’s useless to say, “I want to run a marathon in six months.” Instead, you should break down that goal into how many miles you need to run each week, and which days you plan on logging those miles if your goal is to be achieved. If an item on your to-do list isn’t a specific, actionable item, break it down into bite-size steps that can be completed in sequence. You’ll find you get a lot more done that way.
Ready to start your own to-do list? While old-fashioned pen and paper works just fine, here are some apps and software to consider that will keep your lists stored digitally and synced across devices:
Get Rid Of Clutter
It’s difficult to focus on completing tasks when you’re surrounded by clutter. Keep your workspace organized, whether it’s a desk for your ecommerce business or product displays at your brick-and-mortar store. According to Fast Company, cleaning your workplace and getting things organized is one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve productivity. Physical clutter leads to mental clutter. You can’t possibly get anything done when your desk is covered in paper.
At the same time, if you’re primarily an ecommerce retailer, digital clutter can be just as harmful. Make sure your desktop is clear and your files are organized and easy to find. Your online shop should be easy for customers to navigate. And the back-end of your website should be easy for you to manage.
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While smartphones are one of the most useful devices ever invented — and most people would agree that they can’t live without one — they can also be huge disruptions. I’m not only talking about social media apps and Candy Crush. Calls, text messages, and emails are equally as distracting.
In order to optimize on productivity, it’s best to avoid your phone and email inbox until later in the day. A Deloitte survey found that over 40% of mobile device users check their phones within five minutes of waking up, with nearly 20% reaching for them immediately. The problem with this, according to an article in Psychology Today, is that you’re priming your mind for a reactive state, which can easily start your day off on the wrong track.
During the workday, don’t be afraid to let phone calls go to voicemail. According to Business Insider, Beth Doane, the founder of eco-apparel line Raintees, rarely answers phone calls. Doane says she lets all her non-scheduled calls go to voicemail, or she would never get anything done.
“I tend to return calls at the end of the day, and if someone really needs to reach me I have my assistant's info on my voicemail and let her decide if it's really an 'important' call,” she says.
When focused on your most important tasks, consider putting your phone away where it can be out of sight and out of mind. After all, even the faintest buzz from a vibrating phone can be distracting. Not reaching for your phone first thing in the morning and ignoring calls that aren’t important throughout the day might take some getting used it, but it’s a habit worth adopting.
Limit Your Focus
When your to-do list has over a dozen items on it, and it seems like every time something is crossed off, another two are added to the list, tackling these tasks can seem daunting. It may even feel like you’re unsure of where to start, and you end up trying to kill multiple birds with one proverbial stone. But if you want to learn how to be more productive, that means you have to learn to focus on one task at a time.
Experts argue that multitasking can actually be counterproductive, and successful retail entrepreneurs should focus on completing one task at a time. That might mean blocking off two hours to only deal with inventory, then another hour to focus just on staff scheduling. However, there’s no way you can effectively complete staff scheduling while giving some of your attention to inventory at the same time.
Controlling your attention is about effectively managing distractions in order to produce not only faster results, but higher quality ones as well.
Use A Time Management System
Being good at time management is a skill that takes time to develop, and when you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, there’s no shame in getting some help. There are numerous time management software and apps that can help you exercise conscious control top stop switching between various tasks. Time management systems, such as the Pomodoro technique and Eisenhower system, are also popular amongst retail entrepreneurs.
If you’re looking to get a grasp on how you spend your time, here are some of our favorite time-tracking tools to try:
Automate And Forget About It
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If you run your business alone, there’s no way you can remember to do everything, nor do you have the time. Automation is your friend, and can turn repetitive, time-consuming tasks into ones that can be scheduled ahead and forgotten about. And there are plenty of processes retailers can easily automate.
Social media, for example, is an essential method of marketing and advertising for any retailer, but who has time to tweet and post on Facebook and Instagram several times everyday? There are a number of tools, such as Buffer and Hootsuite, to help you schedule and manage your social media channels. Some of these come with a small cost, but it’s better than waking up on a Thursday and realizing you haven’t posted on Twitter in two weeks.
Another way to automate processes is to go paperless. While this may sound daunting at first, most retail businesses can go almost entirely paperless. Receipts, bills, and bank deposits can all easily be managed online. Moving supplier invoices and inventory forms to a digital format means never having to search through boxes of paper when you’re looking for something specific, and if you have employees, keeping their timesheets and information filed online in a cloud-based format means they’re easily retrievable wherever you are.
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Outsource And Delegate
Even if you automate a number of tasks, trying to do it all as an entrepreneur is unsustainable. You can learn how to be more productive by removing more tasks from your plate — plain and simple. It’s essential to outsource and delegate tasks where you can. Projects like data entry and some customer service can be outsourced affordably. If you run an ecommerce business, but don’t have the technical background to build or redesign your website, hiring someone who has that skill set is a better use of your time.
You can add hours of free time to your day by hiring freelancers or contractors to take over some of these tasks. Not sure how to get started? Read our guide on how to outsource tasks for your retail business.
You likely set yourself monthly, annual, even longer-term goals for your business, but do you plan out your time productively? Most people schedule their week on a Monday morning, but the most productive entrepreneurs do this on Friday.
According to a Fast Company article, spend the last 25 minutes of your Friday workday getting organized for the week ahead. This might include setting an objective for Monday, so that you can hit the ground running with a clear purpose and understanding of what tasks need to get done in order to achieve your goals, or it might even mean leaving yourself a small treat or mantra to enjoy when you return to the office on Monday.
Another way to plan ahead and work more productively is to plan on working from home — or a different space if you usually work from home — once a week. Tracy DiNunzio, founder and CEO of online clothing reseller Tradesy, told Business Insider that she plans a work-from-home day once a week.
"I try to work from home at least one day a week, and carve out time blocks throughout the day in the office to focus on whatever is at the top of my to-do list without interruption," she says.
It's better to do three things well than try and do 10 things when your attention is divided.
Learning how to be more productive also involves slowing down, as counterintuitive as that may seem. In order to be good at what you do — and enjoy it — you have to take breaks. That not only means vacation days (and sick days when you need it), but short breaks throughout the day as well. A Fast Company article suggests viewing your workday as a series of short sprints rather than a marathon.
“It’s better to work highly focused for short periods of time, with breaks in between, than to be partially focused for long periods of time,” the article reads. “You can push yourself to your limits for short periods of time, so long as you have a clear stopping point. And after a rest, you can sprint again.”
Valuing your time also means never setting up meetings without clear agendas. Meetings can often be huge time drains, and you leave without feeling like anything was accomplished. Set a clear agenda ahead of every meeting, and make sure you leave with actionable items that you can tackle later.
Finally, schedule non-negotiable time for yourself. You have family and friends that want to see you, maybe kids and a romantic partner that want your undivided attention. Entrepreneurs often feel like they should be working every waking hour. After all, if you’re not pushing to get something done, who will? But that’s the wrong approach. Ensuring that you have time away from your business allows your mind to rest, and you’ll likely return the next motivated to continue working hard.
What’s Your Advice on How Be More Productive?
What secrets have you discovered for how to be more productive? Share your tips and advice in the comments below.