50 Productivity Tips By and For Small Business Owners

By Lauren Simonds | Posted June 29, 2016

It's a desired state-of-being that launched a thousand business books. It's the Holy Grail for small business owners everywhere. What else could "it" be but productivity? If you're on a quest to improve productivity at work, you've come to the right place. We asked small business owners and managers to share their best productivity tips, and we collected 50 of them into a list that spans five categories.

The interesting, and some might say unfortunate, thing about productivity tips is that they aren’t one-size fits all. A tip that inspires sustained productivity for one person may not be worth the time it took to read it for someone else (but seriously, read the article—loads of good stuff here for everyone. Honest).

That's why this list covers an array of productivity tips to help you get organized, avoid distractions, tame email overload, refresh your brain, or try a new software tool. And best of all, these productivity tips are all small-business-owner-tested and approved.

Productivity Tips for Small Business Checklist

You can scroll through our entire list of 50 productivity tips below, or you can jump directly to the category you want by clicking on one of the subject headings below:

Ways to improve productivity: outsourcing:

Organization and Scheduling

I use and recommend a daily "Power Hour." Set aside an hour each day—without interruptions from the phone or email—to evaluate daily workflow, analyze and modify to-do lists, and pre-plan items for the following day, week, or month. This daily ritual can help small business owners stay on top of business demands while continuously adjusting future plans as daily work plays out.

Small business owners can adapt and customize a power hour to meet their unique needs and requirements. For example, some business owners find the power hour works best to chart progress on both short and long term goals, while others use the power hour to simply plan their next day’s work.

—Adrienne Tom, co-founder, CareerPreneur Partners

Nothing affects productivity more than poorly functioning computers and networks. Business owners will save time, money, and headaches by outsourcing procurement, implementation, and ongoing maintenance to the right local IT expert. Office 365 is a great tool for SMBs. It allows owners to work from anywhere on just about any device. Freed from the office, busy entrepreneurs can achieve the work/life balance they desire.

—Ervis Zeqo, business development manager, eMazzanti Technologies

Delegating work is crucial. Once you notice repetition in your everyday work, then it's time to trust your employees and delegate that repetitive work. No business owner should be handling repetitive tasks; your time is best spent strategizing for your company.

—Ajay Prasad, founder and president, GMR Transcription

Learn the art of delegating tasks. First, identify your priorities for the week ahead. Once you’ve narrowed it down to the essentials, determine how to delegate some of your tasks. For example, you could hire a part-time assistant to handle customer-service emails, or to schedule your meetings and phone calls. You could also use Upwork online, which is great site to find people to handle general task management.

—Sean Hall, CEO and founder, TekBoost

Outsourcing is the most critical game-changer. In our law firm we run a tight ship, and we stay productive by outsourcing some of our needs. While it would take me hours of my own time to set up an advertising campaign, it takes a professional only a few hours to do a much better job.

It's not worth my time, or my business's time, to do things outside my skill set, so we outsource the more specialized tasks and keep simpler goals—like writing blogs and posting to social media—in-house.

—Anthony Tuorto, attorney, Tuorto Law

I use the Pomodoro Timer to keep me focused while working on a particular task. I work in 25-minute bursts and take five-minute breaks. I also use a Chrome extension called Sortd. It's a skin that slides over your Gmail and generates multiple to-do lists in terms of importance. You can add emails to to-do items, schedule important reminders, and have a broken-down set of lists so that "finish drafting estate plan" isn't as important as "drop off dry cleaning."

—Jennifer Kain Kilgore, Esq., attorney, writer, and editor, Wear, Tear and Care

Make a realistic to-do list. We tend to stuff to-do lists with everything that's on our mind. And when we are unable to complete the tasks, it leaves us disappointed. Instead, focus on the most important tasks and complete them first. I use a simple excel spreadsheet to maintain my to-do lists.

—Sumit Bansal, founder, TrumpExcel

Ways to increase productivity

Choose one day a week when you schedule no meetings. Nothing scheduled on your calendar gives you a full day to focus on the business of doing business. Block the day in your calendar so you won’t be tempted to schedule any meetings.

—Gyawu Mahama, social media and marketing manager, Hiscox USA

I use a number of apps and practices to improve my productivity, but by far the most important is my scheduling. First, I structure my days with block scheduling. I do my best writing in the morning, so I schedule only one morning a week to take calls or meetings—otherwise I protect my mornings for writing and working on client projects.

I also block off specific times each week when I'm available for prospective client calls and another block of times when I'm available for calls and meetings with clients. Obviously, emergencies and time-sensitive issues arise, but most activities fit nicely within my scheduled blocks.

An app called Appointlet ties my schedule together. It lets me simply send a link to prospective clients, clients, or vendors to schedule their call with me, and it collects relevant information for the call. And it allows them to book appointments only within the timeframes I've specified. As a solo entrepreneur with only a part-time virtual assistant, this app is key for keeping me organized.

—Kristi Dosh, publicist, Guide My Brand

I’m a visual person and like to see the big picture across my portfolio of clients, so my way to stay focused is a bit traditional; I use a whiteboard. On a Friday, I make a list of prioritized activities for all clients for the following week. I break them down and prioritize them by each day, and I map an approximate timeline to be completed by the end of that day.

This approach keeps items on my visual radar. I complete them or carry them over to the following day if plausible; it also leaves wiggle room for last minute developments or interruptions, which is almost always a given in the public relations world.

—Dana Marruffo, principal and founder, Buzz Public Relations

My small business is a team of one, and to keep myself on track, I start each day with a self-SCRUM to make sure I focus only on the tasks that are important to success—and not worry about the things that don't matter. I just ask myself these 3 questions every morning:

  1. What did I do yesterday to advance my business?
  2. What do I need to do today to make the most difference?
  3. What stood in the way of my progress yesterday & how do I fix it?

These questions are a personal version of Daily SCRUM principles, a project-management technique that focuses on maximum productivity without wasting time on things you don't need.

—Holly Rollins, founder, owner, Create Alchemy

Ways to increase productivity

I have tried countless approaches to stay productive. The only tactic that consistently works for me is using only one checklist. Instead of having multiple checklists, I use one running checklist. It contains two sections: To Do & Completed. Once I do something, I copy and paste it to the bottom under completed. Now all my items are hierarchically organized, and I can reference everything I've done. Try it. It changed my productivity.

—Garrett Mehrguth, CEO, Directive Consulting

My most productive time is in the morning. Knowing when you are most productive and working on what really needs done then will help you accomplish so much more. Between 4:30 and 5:00 my mind starts to wander, so I plan my social media then—things that are more fun and don't require my full attention. Of course, if I need to finish something, I do. However, it’s easy to plan your day this way and work when you are at your best.

—Diana Ennen, president, Virtual Word Publishing

Identify the single-most important project or to-do of your day, and then do it immediately. Don't check email, don't go to a morning meeting...do that one thing first. By prioritizing your time and dedicating it to the highest-value task you guarantee your productivity.

—Danielle Tate, founder and CEO, MissNowMrs

Avoiding Distractions

Get an office location. As a small business owner, staying focused and productive while working out of my home was more difficult than I ever imagined. A place that clearly distinguished "work" from "home," made it easier. When I am at the office, I am here to work.

—Chris Defronzo, owner, Emergency Restoration Services

While running my startup for nearly five years, I’ve worked from just about everywhere—co-working spaces, a members-only club, coffee shops, and even sometimes at a bar. But I focus best at home at my kitchen table. I save so much time in the day because I never have to get ready, commute, or leave for coffee or lunch—it's at arm’s reach. The Wif-Fi's reliable, and no one is around to distract me.

But when I work from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction; I use an app called Stay Focusd. The Google Chrome extension lets me set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10-minute default option. Once I use up my time, I can’t access the sites I blocked for the remainder of the day.

—Lori Cheek, founder and CEO, Cheekd

I work from home, and most people think that means wearing your pajamas all day and lying in bed with your laptop. As appealing as that sounds, the reality is far less relaxing. You might work from home to get away from your humdrum office, but the office environment is optimal for productivity. My home office feels exactly like a normal office. You have to keep your work life and home life entirely separate, even if you're working next door to your bedroom. This isn't good just for your productivity; it also ensures that you spend your free time with your family and not with your laptop

—Max Robinson, owner, Fish Tank Bank

I use a combination of calendars, timers, and Internet blockers. My personal Achilles heel is time-wasting websites that have light news, cute pictures, and ultimately no real value. I use a site-specific blocker to turn these off during the day. I also have a Chrome extension called Newsfeed Eradicator so I can't waste time on Facebook. My calendar has everything in it, even break times and goals (like walking and yoga). Google Calendar actually lets you fit those goals into their optimal time slots. I plot everything down to the 30-minute block. Even if I get off track, I can get right back on again.

—Jennifer Kain Kilgore, Esq., attorney, writer, and editor, Wear, Tear and Care

First, connect your tasks to their purpose and why they're important. The more connected you are, the more determination you have, and the more power you have to block out distractions. Next, track your distractions and look for patterns. When you find distraction triggers, eliminate them from your environment. Use a timer to shut everything else out for blocks of time and, finally, talk to people on your team about how to reduce distractions as a group.

—Penny Zenker, productivity expert and author, Penny Zenker 360

Review your goals, reading them out loud to yourself 3x daily. Nothing focuses you more than a train coming down the track and you're in its way. Life is short and IT WILL run you down unless you're focused.

—Michael Bremmer, CEO, Telecomquotes

Ways to improve productivity

Use separate browsers for work and play. I use Firefox to check work email and documents, and I use Chrome for personal email, Facebook, and YouTube et al. That way, I can just close one of the browsers and focus on the work at hand. If you can't use a separate browser, then create two profiles in one browser. Most browsers let you create user profiles.

Tools that have browser extensions—like Rescue Time—can tell you exactly how much time you spend on work and play activities online, and thereby give you a better sense of your actual productivity.

—Abhijeet Mukherjee, founder and editor-in-chief, Guiding Tech

There’s a perception that freelancers who work from home have all the time in the world and the flexibility to be available all the time. Give friends and family your work schedule and ask them to respect those hours when you're not available. Establish a code word or agree on a protocol for emergencies. For example, they could ring the phone once and immediately call back to indicate the level of importance.

—Dana Marruffo, principal and founder, Buzz Public Relations

Avoid social media during business hours. Other than what's required for managing and properly marketing our business, I use no social media. I use LinkedIn, but never during business hours, and a Twitter business account to brand the company. I send interesting links I see throughout the day to my Twitter reading list and read them that evening. I don't read them during the day so as to stay productive.

—Kevin Presa, general manager, ARA Executive Auto Sales

Here's a paradoxical-seeming strategy for being more productive at work: Tackle an unpleasant task by deliberately avoiding it in an exaggerated way. For example, if you're avoiding working on a report, simply stand with your hands in your pockets and do absolutely nothing until you're ready to work.

I also suggest making deals like this: "Unless I work on this project today, I promise NOT to work on it tomorrow or the next day either." It's amazing how motivated you can get when you threaten to prohibit yourself from doing a task you're avoiding doing

—Steve Levinson, clinical psychologist, inventor, and author, HabitChange

I created an athletic-trainer, accountability-style system to eliminate my work procrastination. A huge benefit of working out with a trainer is that he's watching you exercise, which prevents you from slacking off. I mimic this situation at work by texting a list of tasks to accomplish in the morning—and then again in the afternoon—to my wife. You can choose anyone you trust. I report back to her at the end of each work period to let her know what I accomplished. That way, I know someone is watching, and I'm less likely to waste time.

Leo Welder, founder,ChooseWhat

I'm different than most people in that I context switch very well, and I thrive on little interruptions. Email notifications to my smartwatch provide minimal distraction, and they let me note important communications worth addressing. This keeps me ridiculously prompt when dealing with people, but largely undistracted during complex tasks.

—Theo Schlossnagle, founder, Circonus

Email Efficiency

Email interruptions zap your productivity. Shut off automatic message downloading and start fetch emails only when you’re ready to deal with them. Do that on your phone, too, and save your battery life. Also, set up a secondary email account for things like newsletters and promotional mail. Use a Gmail account and set up an automatic forward of anything you actually want, like travel confirmations, while still protecting your "real" email account. It’s like having a personal assistant for your email.

— Maura Thomas, founder, RegainYourTime

"Stay caught up with your communication on a daily basis. For me, it means that every email gets a response, gets delegated to someone else on my team, or is deleted before I go to bed each night. Letting my email pile up for days not only puts my team behind schedule, it also creates an overwhelming project that requires a large amount of time."

—Angie Stocklin, COO and co-founder, Sunglass Warehouse

Believe it or not, about half a dozen emails hit my inbox every day. For several years, I spent my last half hour on Fridays adding new rules to Gmail's inbox, and now I only receive exactly what I need to see. We encourage our staff to do the same, since barrages of unimportant email are a huge time sink. Start with a whitelist rather than a blacklist so that unknown senders don't sneaking into your day.

—Mike Catania, co-founder and CTO, PromotionCode

Set boundaries of when you answer emails and telephone calls—and any other form of communication you may use. Try keep in mind that these various forms of communication are for your convenience—not for the convenience of others. You can’t be focused and efficient when you always let distractions take you away from the task at hand. Schedule a period of time once or twice a day to respond to and initiate conversations with customers, business associates and personal contacts.

—Kim McCarter, strategic brand and business success coach, Kim McCarter.com

Productivity Tools

I started out as a solopreneur and—like any one-person start-up—I juggled every aspect of the business. As business has grown, I’ve added people to the team. But with growth comes the need for a tool that can keep the team up to date and on the same page. I use Insightly, a customer relationship management [CRM] and project management solution, to keep the entire team more organized. We need to share project updates and tasks easily, and Insightly records every conversation within the platform. That makes all the information easily accessible; anyone can pick up the process and have an informed discussion. This not only avoids duplicate activity, it keeps projects moving regardless of staff location or client time zones.

— David Zeidman, founder and managing director, Zeidman Development

CRM is an excellent way to manage your leads and clients. Adding tasks and assigning responsibility is a breeze in CRM. Managers or owners can see the company's overall performance. A CRM platform's data-gathering and reporting capabilities can drive analysis and planning. You can automate many tasks in CRMs, which improves efficiency. The collaboration will be better because employees can clearly see the work they need to do, and that also means increased accountability. Some of best CRMs in the market include ZohoCRM, Salesforce, and Insightly.

—William Torres, owner, Keyforge

Our team's favorite productivity tool is Slack. The app is incredibly easy to use, and it allows us to effortlessly upload documents, quickly run ideas past each other, and simply run our business as smoothly as possible. As an added perk, it's a fun app to use.

—Jenae Wilson, president, Payment Insider

"At our company, we always say 'push, push, push.' While we do that, we also keep our top priorities and best practices at the forefront of our agendas. It's easy to get lost when so many tasks come up, so our team communicates using Slack, and we manage priorities in Asana. With clear communication and a focus on the top priorities, we position ourselves to be productive."

—Leif Abraham, co-founder, AND CO

My job involves writing for our blog and for other web magazines, so I use Evernote to keep my research organized and saved online. I like the tagging feature; it helps me pull different sources together quickly. I stay focused by using the Pomodoro time-management system. You can download various Pomodoro apps depending on your needs. The focused work time really keeps me on-course with deadlines, especially with larger projects.

—Siobhan O’Rorke, marketing and communications manager, Lookeen

It is imperative to have a project management system in place, and we use Trello. Without it so many tasks get overlooked, and no one on the team has any idea what's happening in each department. We're a small startup and originally had only five people on the team, but we've grown to include a sales team. Trello gives us a hub to sign in and see what's going on, and it makes us so much more productive. No more chasing each other around the office to get answers to questions. It's been a great asset to our organization.

—Larry Nolen, digital analyst, InternetChoice

I use tools like IFTTT and Zapier to automate certain processes. For example, taking RSS feeds from different freelance job boards and sending information to me in an email. This sends me daily leads for freelance work. I also like to use IFTTT to post native images to Twitter whenever I post an Instagram picture. That saves me roughly 5 minutes per Instagram photo.

—Austin Iuliano, content marketer and growth hacker, Dscience

Like most entrepreneurs, I get ideas and deal with fire-drills all day long. I use Evernote to keep myself organized and on-task. Now I don't forget anything important when going from task-to-task throughout the day.

—Nick Braun, founder & CEO, PetInsuranceQuotes.com

"Using a timer and a project management tool in tandem really helps me stay productive. I use Toggl and Basecamp. I log all my time in the timer tool and assign my time to specific projects & clients. When I start the day I go to my project management software and set a specific list of tasks that I want to complete based on their priority. While that may sound like a time suck, it takes me, on average, about 12 minutes a day to perform this exercise, and referring back to that list throughout the day saves way more than 12 minutes. It keeps me productive and on task."

—Brandon Howard, owner All My Web Needs

Creative Recharging

Sometimes the best way to stay productive is to sit and think. There are times for me when it's best to just drop everything, clear my mind, and just think. It greatly relieves stress and increases my productivity tremendously when I get back to work.

—Ajay Prasad, founder and president, GMR Transcription

When I lack motivation or have trouble focusing, I play the piano. Playing an instrument has been scientifically proven to engage practically every area of the brain at once—especially the visual, auditory, and motor cortices. It really gets my mental capacity going. It's like a mental full-body workout.

—Gene Callabaro, co-founder, GreenPal

My job as a writer and researcher can be pretty demanding at times, so to avoid procrastination, and distraction I get a change of scenery. Our office is right by the beach, and getting outside for a few minutes and walking around helps rejuvenate my mind and clear stress. Also, our boss built an outdoor work station—sometimes just getting out of the office and into the sunshine works wonders on productivity levels.

—Natalie Baker, business plan writing consultant, The Startup Garage

After launching my business, I became the most stressed I've ever been in my entire life. I was an accidental entrepreneur and had no idea what I was getting into. I found release by hitting the gym every day. I always joked that if my startup failed, at least I'd be mad fit. I actually spend hours each week on the elliptical trainer where I catch up on texts, Twitter, and email. That time alone lets me wrap my head around the priorities ahead of me each day.

—Lori Cheek, founder and CEO, Cheekd

I make sure to take a 20 minute nap every day after lunch. It keeps my mind sharp, and it helps my afternoons to be as productive as my mornings. This one is new for me; I just started taking naps a few months ago, after holding a 7-day experiment. It was the most rewarding experiment I've ever done, so I keep it up.

—Holly Rollins, founder, owner, Create Alchemy

Sitting all day is not good for your health, so I downloaded a free countdown timer. Every 20 minutes, the timer pops up on my desktop with a note that says "10 Push-ups" or whatever my exercise is for that day. I do the exercise and then reset the timer for 20 minutes. This makes sure I don't sit for hours on end, and it adds a little exercise to my work routine.

—Chris Abrams, founder, Abrams Insurance Solutions

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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