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12 Productivity Hacks to Level Up Your Small [But Busy] Business

When running a small business, things can feel like they’re not moving as fast as you’d like. It’s challenging to know where to start, and where to implement changes to increase productivity across your company.

Thankfully, there’s a way to achieve more with less.

We’re passionate about empowering small businesses with automation. This is why we’ve put together a list of 12 ways you can increase productivity today without hiring new employees.

We’ve organized the list into three productivity tips categories, specifically catered to SMBs:

  • Business productivity, for general strategy and company-wide efficiency
  • Personal productivity, for each collaborator to consider implementing
  • Team productivity, for group efforts and result-driven objectives

Let’s get to it!

How to increase business productivity with automation

Hire and retain the best employees

With limited HR staff on deck, small businesses must focus on optimizing hiring processes without compromising on quality. This can be done by automating some of the steps with online forms, such as:

  • Initial screening: Weeding out applicants with qualifying questions
  • First touch: Asking prospective employees about their experience
  • Information collection: Requesting official documents

Form creation tools like Cognito Forms, Survey Anyplace of Typeform can be leveraged to do some of the menial work for you, and preselecting the most valuable candidates for the job.

Incorporating these forms within your automation strategy will allow you to take things further.

How? For example, after collecting answers, you’ll be able to automatically sort them based on a set of filters. To achieve this, you can rely on the template below.

Of course, hiring is only the beginning. Getting new employees up to speed will be your next challenge, which we addressed in our blog post on the best practices for successful remote onboarding automation.

Keep the lights on even when your team is sleeping

Hiring someone to cover other time zones outside of your staff’s business hours might not be an option. Thankfully, automation can help and make sure every request is attended to, or at least acknowledged.

For example, you could set up automated messages on Facebook to reply to messages outside of business hours. You could also configure your support email address to inform customers that their request has been received and that your support team will answer it during business hours.


setting-up-automated-replies-with-facebookImage Source: TestingCatalog

Someone will still have to address the questions in the morning, but customers will be reassured that their request didn’t fall into the void, which happens more often than you think.

Get insights from social media without spending hours on the timeline

No one enjoys manually searching keywords online to try and find information about competitors. It’s time-consuming, boring and not sustainable: You’ll eventually stop doing it and miss out on key information.

There’s an easier way to do it, using tools like Mention or Mediatoolkit to track relevant keywords on social media for example.



mention-social-media-listeningImage Source: Mention

You can also use an automation platform like Integromat to monitor brand mentions on Reddit, or set up notifications every time a competitor is mentioned on a specific website.

Involve your team in deciding which automation to implement

For automation to work at any company, it’s important to ensure that every employee is on board, and feels included in the process. To do so, why not implement a quarterly audit of processes that could benefit from automation with the whole team?

This is a great way to involve everyone and gather precious insights on areas where productivity could be improved by automation.

Make sure to refer to our previous post about how to define your automation strategy, and to browse our blog for ideas on what small teams can automate in the workplace.

How to increase personal productivity with automation

Block out distractions automatically

Some people can find it challenging to focus on work with the temptation to watch a cat video on Youtube at the reach of a click.

While browsing non-work-related websites can be necessary for some tasks (searching for a topic on Reddit for example), blocking out distractions using tools like Cold Turkey or StayFocused can be a great way to remain fully focused.

This is not a good fit for everyone, but it’s worth experimenting with, as long as you’re careful about what you block and for how long. You wouldn’t want to be banned from YouTube for more than a few hours, would you?

This is only one of the many ways to creatively promote productivity with apps as there are hundreds out there. Just make sure to pick one and use it properly!

Switch from useless notifications to purposeful ones

In a busy SMB environment, things can get hectic, and tasks get left behind all the time. These post-it notes on your desk are simply not going to cut it anymore when there are 50 of them fighting for your attention.

You’re probably using a communication app internally (if you’re not, get on that right away).

One of the great things about tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams is the ability to integrate with other tools, either natively or using a platform like Integromat. This allows you to set alerts and notifications for virtually anything you want to be reminded of:

  • Tasks that are due today
  • Meetings to attend
  • Incoming customer requests
  • New hires starting
  • Deadlines approaching

Setting custom notifications is letting the important information come to you instead of spending time looking for it.

slackbot-reminder-exampleImage Source: Slack

Get rid of email clutter

We read dozens of emails every day, most of which are not relevant to us (I’m looking at you, people that cc the entire company every single time).

Not only is this a major time-crusher, but it can also break productivity streaks by distracting us from what we’re actually working on.

This might seem obvious, but organizing your email inbox to work for you is essential:

  • Organizing folders and labels
  • Creating rules and filters
  • Unsubscribing from useless email chains

We all love newsletters, but things can get out of hand fast. Have you ever even opened that weekly email about an obscure topic you were really into for 3 weeks two years ago? If you haven't opened an email from X in the last couple of months, it's time to get rid of it.

Tools like Unsubscriber can help you opt-out of these, while Integromat can make sure you don’t miss out on critical emails.

Improve your time management by tracking your work

How often have you wondered where your day went by the time it’s over? As tasks pile up and days get filled with urgent matters, it’s easy to get distracted and not get anything done.

Using a time-tracking app like Toggl or Harvest is a great way to regain control over your day. The strategy behind time-tracking is two-fold:

First is planning. How much time do you think you spend on each task, and what amount of work are you expecting to produce in a specified timeframe?

Then comes the assessment. Time-tracking allows you to get a clear, honest picture of how much time you spend on each part of your job. Comparing your expectations with how productive you actually are can be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a great way to improve and have a data-centric approach to your work.


toggl-dashboard-interface-screenshot Image Source: Toggl

4 ways automation can increase small team productivity

Motivate your team and focus on results

In a small team, keeping every employee engaged with key metrics is key to ensure everyone is aligned.

But who’s going to gather these KPIs, turn them into pretty dashboards, and share them with everyone? In a small business, the truth is, no one probably has time.

Thankfully, tools like Databox or Mixpanel can automatically generate great-looking dashboards for your team to stay on top of their performance. However, they might be a bit pricey.

If you’re strapped for cash or don’t want to spend too much time creating cute dashboards, setting up a weekly report sent from your CRM is another, simple way to keep everyone in the loop.


pipedrive-graph-report-exampleImage Source: Pipedrive

Make your calendars public for everyone to see

Don’t you hate going back-and-forths over meetings, trying to figure out what time fits best? Everybody does, yet that practice still happens in 2021, even though a few simple tricks can solve the issue.

For Google Workplace users, it might be as easy as making Google Calendar public internally. This will allow everyone in the company to see their colleagues’ availability, and to book meetings at the most appropriate time for everyone involved. There’s also a case to be made about internal transparency, but this is a discussion for another time.

When it comes to client meetings, you might not be so keen as to share your full calendar. Tools like Calendly will allow you to share a public link for clients and external stakeholders showcasing your availability, and allowing them to book a time at their convenience.


calendly-booking-example-pageImage Source: Hubspot

Stop wasting time on meetings

Following directly on the previous step, let’s talk more about meetings and productivity.

Whether we’re talking about SMBs or large enterprises, one constant stays true: Meetings are one of the single most time-consuming activities at work. Your time is precious, as is your employees’, and useless meetings should be avoided at all costs.

This is not as groundbreaking as it might seem, as a lot of successful companies have already implemented measures to limit meetings: Elon Musk famously encourages collaborators to walk out of meetings if they do not bring any value, while Amazon promotes a memo-based approach for more efficiency.

We’re not talking about banning meetings entirely, but encouraging a productive culture at work comes with being mindful of everyone’s time and encouraging effective communication.

Give this fun tool a try or take a look at the following decision tree before deciding whether to hold a meeting:


harvard-business-review-meeting-decision-treeImage Source: Harvard Business Review

And if you do end up having a meeting, make sure to time it!

Document everything

SMB owners are very involved in their companies’ day-to-day activities. This is often a necessity early on, and a great way to build a team and culture around a central figure.

With time, however, founders can also become a single point of failure, holding all the information and becoming a potential liability.

To avoid this classic small business pitfall, it’s important to gather extensive internal documentation that collaborators can go over whenever they need it, without asking anyone. This will become increasingly important as the company grows, to onboard new employees effectively.

Creating an internal knowledge base can be done with dedicated tools like atSpoke, or for free with Google Drive. This can then be automated by integrating a SlackBot for example, fetching answers directly from your knowledge base.


atspoke-slack-botImage Source: atSpoke

Conclusion

With these 12 tips in hand, you now have everything you need to drive significant productivity improvements at your company right away.

For SMBs, automation is a great opportunity to achieve more, in less time, with fewer resources, and thus to compete with larger companies on equal footing.

We’ve written previously about ways automation can increase productivity, and invite you to consider automation as a way to increase productivity and empower your team!

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