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How to Improve Productivity – 3 Key Elements
this is my site written on February 8, 2011 –

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article about how to improve productivity, 3 key elements were discussed.  They were to Focus, to Filter, and to Forget.  While this article was geared toward corporate executives, there are many takeaways that apply to small and home-based business owners.  We will review some of them from this perspective.

The article refers to a 2006 study where participants who multi-tasked, and as a result, took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence.  This is because our brains can’t successfully tell us to perform two actions concurrently. When we switch tasks, our brains must cognitively turn off from the old task, and then turn on  for the new one.  This takes time. Our brains are thus required to set up to do the task at hand  much like we set up a machine in a factory.   Set up time is just like down time – the end result is reduced output.  Now imagine continually switching tasks and all the time it takes to set up between them.  The first tip how to improve productivity is to make sure tasks are done sequentially, not concurrently.

How to Improve Productivity – Focus

Focusing on the task at hand is a key component when it comes to how to improve productivity.  It requires a discipline to eliminate all distractions and a desire to stay concentrated on the activity that needs to be done.  For small business owners this can be a great challenge with so many issues and problems to address and a reality that the business owner is more often than not, the prime resource to address them.  A tip how to improve productivity is to divide your day into chunks, or boxes of time that are reserved for certain activities.  This is called time boxing.  By time boxing, you not only develop a habit but you also educate those around you of your routine.  For example, if your email and voice mail advise those trying to reach you that you will be returning your calls between 3 and 5 pm, then they won’t try to reach you by other means if you don’t answer or call them back right away.

How to Improve Productivity – Filter

A particular challenge how to improve productivity is to manage the volume of information we are exposed to.  Small business owners need to be able to filter information so that the most important or urgent is easily discernible from all the rest.  Email filters work extremely well in this regard and should be used all the time.   Some small business owners may wish to delegate the management of their email to an employee or virtual assistant as well.  The key here is to establish the work rules and then adjust them until the desired level of filtering is reached.  This can be particularly effective when combined with delegating responsibility to handle some of the tasks or issues that arise.

How to Improve Productivity – Forget

This leads into the last component we will discuss on how to improve productivity, which is probably the most important, and at the same time, the most difficult for solo-preneurs.  That is that you have to be able to let go.  Delegating will undoubtedly increase your productivity but you have to accept to relinquish some control.  This is a hard habit to develop if you like being in the know all the time and want to have a say in every single decision.  As business picks up, it becomes harder and harder to do and the “boss” becomes the bottleneck.  It is best to develop the habit of delegating early on.  The other aspect of this is obviously to make sure you put your business aside when you have to.  Many solo-preneurs decide to go into business for themselves because thay desire to have more freedom, only to discover that they are “working” all the time.  This is actually counterproductive.  Turning off from work actually helps recharge, change perspective, and make people more productive when they turn back on.  So get in the habit of doing physical activity during your day, or reading a novel, or playing with your kids after dinner instead of reading emails.  You will actially get more done anyway…

More resources on how to improve productivity

If you found this article useful, we invite you to view the FREE recording of our Get More Done mini-class at this link.  It is an hour and twenty minutes full of tips and strategies to teach you how to improve productivity.