How tech can free up to 2 hours a week to transform your business
An estimated £9bn could be added to the economy if SMEs could find an extra two hours a week. How can you make those time-savings?
When Victoria Casebourne’s daughter got chicken pox, the founder of The Keepsake Co. took the week off without worrying about what the down time might do to her bottom line.
“There was no need,” she says. “I run a full-time business in part-time hours and because of the way we’re using technology, it just ticks along without me.”
Casebourne is proof that the secret to finding more hours in the working week lies not in more overtime – further hindering delicate work /life balance – but in taking advantage of the latest technological tools for improving workplace productivity.
From tracking every stage of her sales pipeline via project management software to managing her online presence using a social networking application, Casebourne couldn’t be without the tools which allow her to spend more time at home than in the office.
“Trello is amazing for managing new business leads efficiently; without it we’d have to follow up potential customers manually but instead we just move them from one board to another as they progress through our sales process, and we’ve customised the program to generate a personalised email at every stage. This ensures everyone who contacts us gets an appropriate, timely response and we never drop the ball on leads.”
“Zapier lets me generate a Facebook post automatically every time I add a card on Trello, or blog without signing in to WordPress. It’s about using tech to get round the time-consuming tasks that can otherwise become roadblocks.”
The benefits of using tech to make efficiency savings in this way “resonates through nearly everything we do,” says Daniel Rowles, CEO of Brighton-based digital marketing training firm Target Internet.
“Daylite for Mac facilitates easy group tracking of sales leads and progress; Skype screen sharing allows tech support to solve IT problems without travel; and we use a brilliant piece of software called Canva to collaborate on graphic design jobs in real-time, bypassing numerous design iterations and lengthy email chains.”
Bjoern Ekner is Senior Director at wireless headset manufacturers Jabra where he has introduced initiatives to improve working practices, cognitive function and wellbeing. This includes a partnership with energy pod manufacturer MetroNaps whose goal is to combine audio and sleep in the office to stimulate creativity and productivity.
“It’s a provocative point of view because we still have an industrial mindset in our knowledge economies but you should work in 90-minute flows and then have a rest,” he says. “A power nap can reduce stress levels and give you a longer life. But you need the right culture around productivity – which is essentially an issue of trust – as well as the right tech.”
A lack of awareness of the ways that technology can help is only one barrier to increasing productivity; among the tasks that drain hours that could be spent increasing revenue and growth, SMBs also listed spending too much time on admin (28%), managing communications with customers (17%), traveling to meetings (11%), managing complex IT issues (85%) and tax/National Insurance (9%).
There’s an app for all of that, says Grace Marshall, entrepreneur and author of How To Be Really Productive.
“Scheduling tools like Time Trade and Doodle are indispensable and can save you from interminable rounds of email ping pong. Task management apps like ToDoIst, Asanaand Evernote let you ‘brain dump’ then organise by project, tagging different locations or customers / clients. And cloud-based apps like Free Agent, Receipt Bank and Expensify make light work of accounting.”
But, says Marshall, the real antidote is to recognise the difference between time management and attention management.
“We think we don’t have time for certain tasks but the bigger challenge is not having enough attention. It costs, on average, 15 minutes to recover your attention after every interruption so four badly timed distractions can suck up a whole hour of your day. Small business owners feel particular pressure to be responsive and if you’re running multiple parts of the business you’re continually distracting yourself from one piece of work with another.”
Grace recommends silencing email notifications or switching off wifi altogether to focus your attention, and says this can make the difference between getting something done in two days or two hours.
Saying ‘no’ is another weapon worth employing in the war against poor productivity. “Unless you say no to some things you risk spreading yourself too thin, diluting your impact. When we take on too much we’re far more likely to make mistakes which – far from making us more productive – end up costing time and money to correct.”
If there’s a silver bullet for making time-savings in a small business, it’s giving up trying to simply get more done. “Less is more when it comes to productivity; instead focus on the questions ‘How do I do my best work and who do I give my best to?’” says Marshall. “We all know about the 80/20 rule – the idea that 20% of your activities account for 80% of your results – but rarely apply it. What small percentage of your activity generates the biggest impact? Which 20 percent of your client base are the most profitable? Make the most of those.”
Once time-saving tech is in place, how should you use the extra hours it buys? Rowles recommends focusing on scalability rather than revenue. “Ruthless improvements around productivity allowed us to launch a new product feature which has given us a real hook for sales,” he says. “So instead of trying to increase revenue, use extra hours to build something innovative that allows you to scale in a new way.”
Perhaps the true value of time-saving tech lies not in the hours it saves, but the peace of mind it brings, concludes Casebourne. “By far my biggest saving from using productivity-boosting technology is in reducing the pressure on me; it’s wonderful to no longer feel like I have to remember absolutely everything all of the time.”