We all know that time is money, but we don’t always act like it. If given the chance, meetings can drag on for hours and projects can suffer months of delays. The hard truth is that many of these hang-ups can be avoided by following simple principles to maximize workplace efficiency. So what can a business do to improve its productivity?

This is a question asked by new entrepreneurs and business magnets alike. Here are 10 of the best, most time-tested rules, tips, tricks and life hacks to help you reach peak business efficiency.

1: The Pareto Principle

Also known as the “80/20 Rule”, the Pareto Principle is named after the most famed Italian economist of the turn-of-the-century, Vilfredo Pareto. His most well-known observation was that roughly 80 percent of Italy’s land was owned by 20 percent of the Italian population, indicating that the distribution of income was concentrated among a small subset of landowners.

This uneven distribution is found in the most unlikely of places, including much of the natural and social worlds. In business, the Pareto principle also applies, in that roughly 20 percent of your efforts are responsible for 80 percent of your results.

This is a powerful principle that applies to many parts of your business. If you’re like most business owners, you’ll generally find that:

  • 20% of your customers result in 80% of total revenues
  • 20% of your software bugs create 80% of your system failures
  • 20% of sales reps bring in 80% of sales
  • 20% of marketing efforts generate 80% of conversions

You get the point. The takeaway is that you should identify what seems to be working for your company and improving its bottom line, and zero in on that. By spreading yourself too thin, you can lose track of what’s causing your success and end up wasting time and effort.

2: Learn How to Delegate

One of the most underrated aspects of business efficiency is a business owner’s ability to delegate appropriately.

As business scales, it becomes increasingly important for business owners and managers to delegate responsibility and authority to subordinates.

Assigning this responsibility correctly is crucial for two reasons: it takes work off the plate of the superior, allowing them to specialize in more important tasks, and it helps train the subordinate for future leadership positions.

When delegating responsibilities to your staff or team members, consider the following tips to help generate the best possible results:

  • Explain the desired outcome in plain terms
  • Bring in supporting team members when needed
  • Whenever possible, delegate to the lowest level
  • Provide necessary resources
  • Focus on results over the execution
  • Provide a balance between their responsibility and authority

3: Limit Your Face Time

No, we aren’t talking about the iOS app on your phone. We’re talking about those all-too-frequent “Got a minute?” meetings that interrupt your workflow. These distracting meetings are usually solicited off-the-cuff and, although they only ask for a minute, they can sometimes drag on for a half an hour or longer.

Instead, try scheduling your face time. Rather than accept any impromptu “Got a minute?” offer, ask them politely if they have 10 minutes to meet at 3 PM to discuss whatever project you’re collaborating on.

Make sure the discussion is kept within the scheduled time frame and ensure that you remain on topic—save the off-topic convos for happy hour.

4: Cut the Multitasking

Every year, more evidence points to the fact that multitasking does more harm than good. Although business owners sometimes have no choice but to balance multiple jobs or tasks, you should, whenever possible, limit your multitasking.

If you have a full plate, simply divide your daily tasks into manageable chunks, with the highest-priority objectives scheduled earlier in the day. This way, you can attack each job one-by-one, without diverting your focus in multiple directions. If you allow yourself to aimlessly multitask, you may end up doing nothing but spinning your wheels all day.

5: Narrow Down Your Priorities

Whenever we’re asked, “what can a business do to improve its productivity,” our first recommendation is to reduce the number of daily or weekly priorities. Instead, concentrate on one or two primary objectives and tackle each of them one by one. Don’t try to juggle them all at once, since this will only slow you down.

The truth is, there is no such thing as having a dozen priorities. At any given time, you should only have one priority that prevails over all others. If your to-do list is endless, you can feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. Therefore, mastering efficiency in business starts with selecting one or two key strategic priorities and taking concrete actions to handle them.

6: Scale Back Your Meetings

Not every business meeting is necessary. In fact, many of them can be a colossal waste of time and company productivity if they get bogged down in off-topic conversation. This is why an increasing number of small and large businesses alike are turning to Slack and other workplace messaging tools to discuss team-related matters in real time.

If a meeting is necessary, you can speed it up by simply emailing the agenda ahead of time and asking everyone to review it. This way, you won’t have to circulate papers around the room and explain the minute details of each item.

Or, if you want to increase employee productivity without disrupting their workflow, you can host a remote meeting using video conferencing apps.

7: Meet in the Morning

Sometimes projects are too important to discuss via Slack or email. That’s why, occasionally, daily meetings or debriefs are necessary. If you must host a meeting to discuss your team’s plan for the day, ensure that you schedule the meeting as early as possible in the day.

Called a “Daily Huddle,” quick 10-minute meetings first thing in the morning can help energize your team members, increase employee productivity throughout the day and keep them on task. Although a huddle may seem like a loss of 10 minutes, the return on investment is usually high, since it has been shown to motivate employees and give them an opportunity to ask questions that they might otherwise pose later in the workday.

8: Automate, Automate, Automate

If you want to know how to increase the productivity of employees, you should start by providing them with the tools to automate their workflows.

Today, there are countless tools and pieces of software that can lighten the workloads of your employees. Automation services currently exist that can handle the following business processes:

  • Payroll services
  • Email marketing campaigns
  • Project management
  • Data entry
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Marketing funnel management

For email marketing optimization, MailChimp can streamline and schedule your email blasts to help get messages out faster. For sales, Salesforce, Marketo and other core systems should be a staple in your business’s software lineup. There are also plenty of excellent payroll automation services to help you pay your employees, such as Wagepoint and Quickbooks Online.

9: Adopt New Technologies

This rule goes hand-in-hand with the one listed above. Although there is some merit to the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” this should never hold you back from testing new software that might save you time and effort. Whenever we’re asked, “how can businesses increase productivity,” we always reply by asking them if they’ve updated their core technologies.

For instance, migrating your data to the cloud, where all team members can easily retrieve and upload data on an as-needed basis, can save you time and effort to keep you focused on your key priorities. This list from TechRadar highlights some of the best new productivity tools to speed up your workflows and reduce friction in the workplace.

10: Promote Intrapreneurship

One of the key predictors of a small business’s success is whether it can foster a culture that encourages workplace intrapreneurship. If you have a team of go-getters on your hands that are willing to take risks and experiment with new methods to get the job done, you may be stifling innovation by telling them no.

This one requires some executive decision-making from a team leader. If you trust that your employees can deviate from standard operating procedures, then let them know that they’re able to get a little creative when tackling projects. When asked “what can a business do to improve its productivity?” sometimes the answer can be found with a little flexibility, risk-taking and creativity.

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