I think it’s human nature to look for big solutions to challenges—the silver bullet. Unfortunately, in most situations, I’m not convinced there is a real silver bullet. I think this is particularly true for creating an efficient business. Most of the time, business efficiency is a combination of relatively small and incremental steps that cumulatively have a significant impact.
With that in mind, here are six relatively simple things you can start doing today that will help you amp up your personal efficiency as well as create an environment where your employees can be more efficient too.
Look for ways to simplify and automate business processes: This is easier said than done, but creating business efficiency is a worthy effort. Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth Revisited, suggests, “What you do in your model is not nearly as important as doing what you do the same way, each and every time.”
In other words, look at your most successful practices and find ways to make them repeatable. A documented employee manual could be one of them, but if there are places you can automate those processes to ensure consistency, even better. Whether it’s something as simple as automating the way you pay your bills or something more complicated like ensuring that all your customers get the same experience regardless of who they talk to, automating the processes that make sense is simply a good idea.
Instigate a daily standup: In the software development world, some groups conduct a 10-15 min standup every day to review what was accomplished yesterday and determine the goals for today. It’s called a standup because it’s intended to be short, and standing up makes it difficult for 10 min. to turn into 30 min. or an hour. You don’t have to be a software company to take advantage of the daily meeting. In fact, you’ll likely find everyone takes more ownership of their individual tasks and is more efficient if they know they are going to be accountable tomorrow for what they’re supposed to be doing today.
Establish interruption-free time blocks: This is another one that might be easier to talk about than do. If you’re regularly interrupted with impromptu meetings, emails, chat messages, or other distractions—making it difficult to focus and get things accomplished—it’s likely the same is true for your employees. Depending upon the nature of the role, it can take several minutes to get back on task after a random interruption, making you and your employees less efficient.
For example, if you tend to get the most done first thing in the morning, turn off your email alerts, shut your office door, or otherwise create an interruption-free work environment. Years ago, I had an employer who gave us all a multi-colored light box we were to use when we were working on a project that required uninterrupted concentration. If a colleague had the light on, we avoided interrupting him or her until they were out of the “zone” so they could stay focused on the work at hand.
Discourage multi-tasking: I know people who claim they are able to successfully multi-task, but the preponderance of the research (as well as my personal experience) convinces me that the ability to skillfully multi-task is a pipe dream. If you are a great multi-tasker you might be the exception, but most people can really only focus on one thing at a time. Many years ago, Charles Emerson Winchester III, one of the surgeons on the television show M.A.S.H. said, “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on to the next.”
Although the nature of most roles today require some form of multi-tasking, creating a work environment where your employees can focus on the task at hand will help your employees be more efficient.
Call it a day at the end of the day: Too much overtime or regularly requiring heroic effort to accomplish your mission is a warning sign that something’s wrong and negatively impacts business efficiency. What’s more, in addition to fostering a culture of burnout, in roles that require creative problem solving, too much overtime reduces your, and your employee’s, ability to creatively approach and overcome challenges. Late nights, poor eating habits, and the associated stresses experienced by employees who have no release from work, introduces more mistakes and is actually less productive.
Take an hour to think: Let me share one of the best pieces of advice I think I’ve ever heard. You might not think this could impact business efficiency, but I’ve seen how it can. I met Dick Cross, author and nine-time turnaround CEO, after he’d written his first book, Just Run It! He’s spent much of his career as the guy they bring in to turn a company around and make a flagging company profitable and healthy. In all of my conversations with him, I found him to be a brilliant business strategist who has the experience and knowledge to build a successful business.
He suggests the role of a business leader is not only important; it’s critical to the success of any business. He advocates taking at least an hour every week to think about your business, where your at, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there. He also says it’s very hard to carve out an hour a week without the interruption of the phone, email, or other distractions. It might even feel awkward to sit quietly and just think, but you might be surprised at the result. He counsels business owners to step away from the day-to-day tasks that often take up so much time and do some thinking. Lock your office door and start with 20 or 30 minutes if that’s all you can carve out in the beginning, but build up to at least an hour and you’ll be surprised at the insight and inspiration you’ll discover. I’ve tried this and it works.
Running an efficient business is a goal many small business owners share, but it doesn’t just happen. It requires sustained, strategic effort along with an understanding that sometimes small, incremental changes that positively impact productivity are often the solution.