One out of every four small business owners (SBO) works more than 60 hours every week, and 70% regularly work at least one weekend a month. Does that sound like you? Even if you don’t work quite that much, chances are you work at least 50 hours per week. After all, the majority of business owners do. It seems to come with the territory.

You may not be able to avoid long hours altogether, but you can probably trim them down. If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve probably already noticed tasks that could be completed in a more efficient way. Needless paperwork, technological distractions, and poor time management skills are areas to focus on to buy back time.

But here’s the problem: Who has time to figure out what to optimize, let alone the best way to do so? When you feel like you’re barely staying afloat, adding another thing to your plate may not feel like an option. But consider this: A recent study published by Inc. on business owners’ time management habits revealed that business owners spend more than 21 hours of their workweeks on low-value, time-wasting activities.

With that in mind, doesn’t investing one hour per day—five hours a week—to simplify and streamline your work processes and personal habits make a lot of sense? In the long run, doing so can help you grow into a more productive business owner — with shorter working hours.

3 Ways to Be More Productive at Work

To get more done while working fewer hours, start by creating an intentional schedule. Next, identify tasks you can automate to save time. Finally, batch similar tasks together to help you maintain flow. Executing these three ideas will help you be a more productive small business owner.

1. Create an Intentional Schedule

When you see blank space in your calendar, it may be tempting to allow others to dictate what you work on. By failing to plan, you also risk falling into the habit of simply reacting to daily events. When this happens, your time is no longer yours.

The good news is you can claim it back by creating a master schedule. Set aside 30 minutes to follow these four steps:

  1. Choose a calendar app that works across all your devices, including your phone, computer, and tablet — and download it.
  2. Start by scheduling your family and self-care activities, which includes time for sleep, nutritious meals, household chores, cardio and strength-training sessions, dates with your spouse, and adventures with your kids.
  3. Next, organize your work day. Given your energy levels throughout the day, when are you most (and least) alert? Be mindful of when distractions typically occur, as well. For example, if you frequently get phone calls after 3 PM, it’s best not to schedule deep work for late afternoons. The key is to schedule your most important and demanding tasks during hours when you have the most energy and focus and the least distractions.
  4. Finally, review your work. Make sure that the time you’ve set aside for each task is reasonable. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the trap of letting things spiral out of control, and they’ll take over your day. For example, schedule 30 minutes at the start and end of the day to respond to emails. Then be disciplined: Only check your inbox during those times. Of course, adjust as needed.

2. Automate Tedious Tasks

If you’re like most business owners, you’re probably aware of the mountain of tedious and repetitive tasks that steal your time away each day, week, month, quarter, or year. Despite being acutely aware of them, you may not realize that many actually don’t require manual effort. Automation technology can take care of things behind the scenes, allowing you to get back to what matters.

Look for opportunities to automate tasks, especially where doing so would be free. Here are five common things small business owners automate:

  • Scheduling meetings
  • Tracking expenses
  • Paying bills
  • Tracking sales
  • Invoicing customers

3. Batch Similar Tasks

In his book, Brain Rules, John Media writes that jumping from task to task can make a project take 50% longer. Why? Because it takes most of us more than 20 minutes to refocus after encountering a distraction or to get back on track after switching tasks, according to a report by academic researchers. Fortunately, you can overcome this by batching your work.

Batching enhances your efficiency and powers your productivity. When you batch your work, you do tasks that require similar resources all at once instead of jumping around, which drives down productivity. Because you’re deeply focused on one type of task, free from distractions, you get in the zone faster and complete your work more quickly.

Consider what tasks you can batch. You could, for example, batch work by client or task type (e.g., emails, proposals, contracts) — what works best for you will depend on your business structure. Don’t forget to add time for batching to your master schedule.

4 More Ways to Improve Your Productivity

Feeling inspired? You could save even more time and reach new heights of productivity by reading Become a More Productive Business Owner in 21 Days — Without Losing Sleep or Sanity, the eBook we wrote specifically for small business owners like you, which guides you through three weeks of productivity-boosting activities.

Inside you’ll find seven actionable strategies to help you achieve greater efficiency. Each strategy is paired with a specific timeline and tips for success. In addition to advice on how best to schedule, automate, and batch your work, you’ll learn four more productivity tactics:

  • Identify tasks you can eliminate
  • Delegate work effectively
  • Build a tech stack of productivity apps
  • Scale your efforts

Our ultimate goal in creating this guide is to help you simplify your work life and reclaim precious hours. Whether you spend them getting more work done or enjoying time with your family is up to you.

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