February 17, 2020

Our Top 9 Productivity Hacks: The Best Apps & Methods for Small Businesses

Business owners across all industries and sectors can agree on one thing: There aren’t enough hours in the day. Juggling multiple day-to-day needs, employees, and operational tasks can stretch even the most seasoned entrepreneur too thin.

To maximize bandwidth, many small business owners search for productivity techniques and tools to help them work smarter, not harder. 

While there is no shortage of options to select from when it comes to productivity tools that complement your workflow, in this article, we’ll discuss our nine favorite productivity hacks to help you simplify your business life.

1. Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique, developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, is a time management practice that encourages you to focus on tasks in segments. Specifically, with the Pomodoro, you should focus on one, single task for 25 minutes. 

After 25 minutes pass, you then take a 5-minute break to reset your mind. After four “pomodoros”, or four, 25-minute focus periods, you’re able to take a longer 15 or 20-minute break. 

Cirilo believes that by chunking your time in short segments, you’re able to increase focus, and are less distracted by external occurrences. If you want to try the Pomodoro Technique, you’re in luck. You can stick with the old tomato-shaped kitchen timer that this technique is named after, or you can use more modern apps including Pomotodo, Focus Booster, and PomoDoneApp

2. Note Keeping

Every day we receive hundreds of documents, attend dozens of meetings, and take several phone calls. The amount of information we’re required to keep track of is simply impossible without assistance. With note keeping systems like Evernote or OneNote, you can take advantage of a digital file cabinet to organize the information you receive each day. 

Note keeping systems help you create a daily to-do list, effectively manage your day-to-day, and provides reminders of important events or agenda items you can’t miss. 

Some systems can be used as project management or expensing systems as well. For example, with Evernote, you’re able to upload many different file types like PDFs, and images and the system’s optical character recognition technology will automatically scan that image for readable text, add it to your Evernote account, and allow you to search for it later. So if you are at a restaurant with a client, and want to save a receipt to show your accountant later, you can easily scan and add it to your Evernote account to be dealt with after lunch. 

3. Time Management

Much like a budgeting or weight loss apps, time management apps compile your output data and bring attention to your day-to-day habits to show you where you can improve. 

For example, with a time management system RescueTime you can track how much time you’re spending on specific apps, websites, and projects. The insights help you learn what websites or applications are most distracting to you (ahem, Twitter). You can also see what work-related tasks like emails, or meetings, and sucking time from your day. 

Using the data from a time management system, allows you to realize your biggest distractions, helps you discover your most natural hours of high productivity, and helps you reimagine your day-to-day schedule for more output. 

4. Distraction Elimination 

Maybe you don’t even need a time management system to know that you’re an easily distracted person. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of pop culture, current events, or social media. That’s why apps like StayFocusd and Self Control allow you to block distracting websites while you’re trying to work. 

Distraction elimination apps allow you to create restrictions, like which websites or programs you’d like to block, and for how long. For example, you can decide to turn off your email for 24-hours or block social media for 8 hours. Without access to all the fun available on the internet, how much more work would you get done?

5. Team Collaboration

Tools that enable collaboration in your workplace have a real impact on productivity. For example, collaboration tools can make communication more effective. A recent survey conducted by The Institute for Corporate Productivity (ICP) found that companies that use Slack report an average 49% reduction in email volume, a 25% drop in the meetings and a 32% increase in productivity. Similarly, productivity tools like GSuite allow for real-time file sharing which eliminates bottlenecks in workflow, and because its cloud-based, your users can access critical information from anywhere, on any device.

6. Virtual Receptionists

Do daunting tasks like answering the phone, scheduling appointments, or filtering through spam calls kill your flow? For small business owners or sole proprietors, hiring a receptionist to act as a gatekeeper or handler of small administrative tasks is a dream come true. However, hiring another person in your office may be out of reach fiscally. 

Luckily, technology comes to the rescue. Smith.ai’s virtual receptionists allow small business owners to take advantage of receptionist services on an as-needed basis. By using a virtual receptionist you can save time on answering robocalls, capturing and qualifying leads, booking new clients, and building relationships with your existing clients which frees you to handle other business development tasks more skillfully.   

7. Task Management

Is accountability an issue in your organization? Chasing down who owns what and what the next step in the business process should be can be a time-suck, and affect your bottom line. To decrease the games of finger-pointing and tag, task management apps like Asana, and Toggl can help you determine exactly who owns what, and who is working most diligently. 

Task management tools allow you to track workflow, showing a clear path of accountability and project management. These tools also allow you to track how much time is spent on each aspect of the project to help you understand how much time is necessary to complete certain tasks, or if there is a bottleneck in the process that you need to address. By understanding your internal workflow, you can optimize processes, and find ways to reduce the time spent on each task to maximize your productivity.  

8. Automated Workflow

For small business owners with an online storefront, manually tracking leads, purchases and fulfillment can be a daunting process. Luckily, technology allows you to automate these processes, which minimizes common cogs in the wheel while simultaneously increasing your bandwidth.

Apps like Zapier allow you to automate if/then processes. For example, if a customer makes a purchase on your website, then, Zapier will automatically create a task for the fulfillment team, add the customer's email address to your newsletter list, and send a purchase confirmation.

9. Chatbots

Any time you’re able to find a system that automates revenue-generating opportunities and frees your time means you’re able to become more productive. That’s why we love Chatbots. 

Chatbots, like the one offered by Smith.ai, is a great way to increase your conversion rate by using AI-powered technology that makes life easier for your customers. Chatbots that integrate with your existing workflows and tools, like a CRM, help you collect data, personalize and improve the customer experience, and close deals without manual interference.

In addition to an improved experience for your customers, chatbots also relieve a burden for your internal staff. If your team is responsible for handling chat responsibilities, you are not only losing the time spent on chat. They also have the constant distraction of the chat interruption which makes productivity challenging.

With a chatbot, your leads are qualified while your team remains focused on deep work and moving the business forward in other areas.

By finding techniques to organize, track, measure and optimize your work, you can get more done in a day, and free your time for more enjoyable tasks. Learn how Smith can reduce the time you spend with customer requests and spam calls to increase your productivity. 

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