Being productive in your business and completing all of your tasks and projects is more than just working all the time. You could even say that optimizing workflow is actually more important than just working a ton of hours, which you most likely already do because you’re a business owner.
The thing is, you can work tons and tons of hours every day and have low output and productivity, if what you’re doing during all those hours is not high-quality work.
That is, if you’re not working on the right things at the right times, taking the long way around to complete projects, or working in a very unfocused way, then the work you’re doing is not quality work. There are many ways that you can change this, if you find that those characteristics describe you. Keep reading if you want to learn how to improve the way you work.
Map It Out
One of the best ways to start optimizing your workflow is to plainly lay out everything that needs to get done. Take a look at all the projects you’ve currently got going, along with all the ones which are upcoming, and include absolutely everything that you’re aware of.
A lot of business owners work from memory and never list out all the things they’re working on, which some people can do, if you have a skill for it, but even people who have a great ability for mental organization, it’s easy to miss something and hard to keep everything straight as your responsibilities really start to pile up.
Dates and times are especially tough to keep track of mentally, opening you up to the possibility of working on something too early or starting too late, at the expense of some other project that needs to get done first.
You’ll probably even wonder, once you start mapping everything out, why you weren’t doing it before because it should really be a standard practice that you use to make sure you’re staying on track.
Don’t Be a Hero—Write It Down
When you’re just trying to keep it all together in your head, you’re running a pretty serious risk, in fact, as there are always going to be some things which are of higher value to you and the business, things that would really cause a problem if they didn’t get done.
It’s also good to include all of the tasks or responsibilities you have, outside of projects for the business, that can take up time and potentially thwart your project schedules. You don’t want to get blindsided by something that comes up from your personal life unexpectedly, demanding your attention because those things need to get done, too.
As you get deeply involved in projects for your business, many times, your personal responsibilities can get neglected, as the business tends to take precedence. So, the point is just to map out all those tasks at the same time to avoid a scheduling conflict, or other type of conflict.
As a very basic guideline for this, simply add to your list all the dates when projects need to be completed, also including the amount of time you predict that each project will take to complete. You can use whatever you’re most comfortable with. If you like everything to be right out there in front of you, then get a whiteboard and put your ongoing and upcoming projects up there on the wall.
Go Old-School, or Go Digital
That method is admittedly a little bit old-school, so a lot of people may not like physically writing everything out on a dry erase board. If that’s not your cup of tea, then, you can always go the digital route. There are quite a few tools to do this.
One great tool you can use is Monday, a service that gives you online project management software for keeping all your tasks in line. Monday is based on a model that’s very visual, and many people use it mainly for just keeping a visual reference in front of them at all times, for what they need to get done.
There are plenty of other online tools you can use for project management, whether it’s just for you, personally, or for your entire team. We recently posted an article with a comparison of the best project management services, which you can find here:
Don’t Be Afraid of Using Software
There are various providers of productivity software available, all of which have their pros and cons, but using just about any of them will be a great asset for you to keep track of everything and help you to organize your projects.
You can record data, track progress, and enter pretty much any other information directly into the software that you’re using. Most productivity software will give you this feature. You’re most likely using some kind of productivity software already, such as Google Apps or Office 365 (Microsoft Office), but how much are you actually using it?
If you look into all the different apps that come with that productivity software, you’re probably going to find a ton of tools that you didn’t even know it had. To get the most out of those tools and start having more quality work, you need to become proficient at using the programs and apps within them, which really won’t take you a whole lot of time.
Do Some Testing and Get Used to It
All you have to do is open the apps, check out the features that they have, and simply try them out. You might even take a day where you do some live testing, wherein you actually rely on them for a period of time and see how it works for you.
Did it make it easier for you to keep track of everything? Did you complete your tasks or projects in a timelier manner? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you’ve probably found a solution that is going to help you create an improved workflow.
Those resources provided by Google and Microsoft and the tools mentioned in the previous section are specifically designed to make project management easier, and the software itself is designed to be easy to use. As a result, it shouldn’t take very long to get used to them. It will take some input from you to create the parameters within the software and load the data for each project, such as composing a spreadsheet, for example.
It doesn’t really need to be that extensive, though. As long as you label each project with the priority level and any circumstances that might affect your timeframe, that’s the majority of the data you will need to input.
Make Sure Everyone Knows Their Role
Most of the time, there are going to be multiple people working towards the completion of a project, not just you, flying solo. Organizing people to work together for a common goal is an acquired skill, and if you don’t have much experience doing it, rest assured that it is not as easy as it sounds.
Obviously, you’ve probably done at least some team leading before because you’re running a business right now; however, some business owners are just one person working out of a basement or a garage and, in fact, have not done much team leading.
If you’ve found that you’re not very good at, that’s ok because you have a lot of resources at your disposal to assist with the process, such as the tools we listed earlier. There is also a huge amount of information that you can find online to learn about team project management, some of which is in this very blog.
Clarity is the Key
You can simplify any team project quite a bit, though, if you first clarify for each member of the team who is involved exactly what they are going to be responsible for. A good start is to address as many of the “5 Ws” as you can for each team member regarding their role within the project. For those who aren’t familiar with this, the 5 Ws are: Who, what, where, when, why (and how).
The “why” is kind of an extraneous one for obvious reasons, and not every member of the team always needs to know why they’re doing it, anyway. It usually helps, though. Defining for everybody what they’re supposed to be doing before you even get started gives you a tremendous advantage for completing projects faster and more effectively.
Make Sure Your Team Understands What They’re Doing
You may be thinking, “Well, of course I’m going to tell everybody what they need to be doing.” The thing is, though, even if you tell your team members what they will be doing, consider whether or not you’re giving them all the right information.
For example, many team leaders will tell people what they’re responsible for completing, but they may not let them know how they need to work together with other members of the team.
The leader also might tell them what their end goal needs to be without explaining how they should go about doing that. It’s true that if an employee has been tasked to do something, then it’s pretty much on them to know how to do their job.
Sometimes, though, there can be vital aspects of their part which are not obvious or somewhat esoteric. Basically, you just want to make sure everybody has all the information they need to do an excellent job.
Don’t Jump Around Between Projects
As a business owner, it’s tough to observe this guideline because you’re always being torn from one task to another, but you have to do your best to gain focus. Focus is vital to have success with each project, and even though you may have multiple ongoing projects at the same time, it’s best to work on one at a time.
You may not have the luxury of completing one task before you move on to the next one, but you can at least try not to multitask too much. Multitasking is an interesting concept and a fairly new one, relatively speaking. It’s interesting because multitasking is not really what we claim it to be. What we are actually doing is serial tasking, not multitasking.
It’s not really possible to do two or more things simultaneously, except for people with the very rare ability to do that, but when we claim to be multitasking, we’re actually jumping back and forth from one thing to another.
Multitasking and Serial Tasking
Consider the following example. You’re at your desk, choosing a new template for your company’s website, when you decide to log in to your email and send an email to a colleague. Then, your phone chimes with a new text message, so you switch over to that and reply to the text.
What’s happening is that you’re stopping one thing to do another thing, then stopping that and switching back to the first thing. That’s called serial tasking, which is what we’re doing when we claim to be multitasking.
Sometimes, there will naturally be some overlap with your projects, and some of them will require that you work on them during the same general period of time; however, you can usually avoid doing that and simply complete each one in series, one before the other. The more you jump back and forth, the more your flow is going to be broken up.
What happens when you do that is that you lose time, or you spend more time on projects than you need to, as it will take you time to regain focus for what you were working on before. This is difficult to master because a business owner has so much going on at any given time, but it’s far more productive to make an effort to handle one thing at a time.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.