Rachel Weeks couldn't get through the workday without constant interruptions. Employees at her Durham, N.C., apparel company, School House, would ask her to sign checks, approve designs and field questions whenever they wanted. Realizing that routine tasks were taking over her day, she started signing checks once a week, sending out packages at a set time each day, and addressing staff questions at weekly meetings.
Those changes have helped Weeks grow the business by developing a new e-commerce site and partnering with a big-box retailer. So far this year, revenue has risen 20 percent, compared with the same period in 2011. "In a small company, there's this tendency to think … if anybody needs something, they can come and find me," she says. "You really have to carve out those hours of uninterrupted work time."
But that means something's got to give. Here are nine daily tasks you probably can eliminate from your workday to help you stay focused and be more productive.
1. Stop overloading your to-do list. You might feel the need to write down everything you need to accomplish each day, but resist making an impossible list of daily tasks, says Peter Turla, a time-management consultant in Dallas. Compiling a lengthy list of things you need to accomplish might seem productive, but you could be doing more harm than good. "It results in too many items at the end of the day that are not completed," says Turla. "That will make you feel stressed out, inadequate and unfocused." Instead, create a manageable list of essential tasks that should be finished on a given day--and save the rest for later.
2. Stop having open-ended meetings. Figure out your priorities before you call a meeting and make them clear to all the attendees, says Doug Sundheim, a New York consultant and executive coach. Too many small-business owners waste half the meeting just getting to what they really want to talk about. Sundheim suggests putting three priority topics at the top of your agenda to avoid getting sidetracked by other issues.
3. Stop answering repetitive questions. If you find yourself answering the same question from clients or employees frequently, you're wasting time, says Peggy Duncan, a personal productivity trainer in Atlanta. Instead, put together an FAQ on your website or create instructional videos that people can access via links at the bottom of your emails. "Figure out better ways to answer [questions] without your having to be involved," she says.
4. Stop taking the same follow-up approach if people ignore you. If you've sent someone an email and the recipient hasn't responded, don't keep firing off more emails. Try communicating in another way--calling, sending a text or visiting in person if it's appropriate, says Jan Yager, author of Work Less, Do More (Sterling, 2008). Too many business owners get bogged down communicating with people inefficiently, she says.
5. Stop eating lunch at your desk. Tempting as it might be to scarf down a sandwich between emails at your computer, don't make it a daily routine. A short break will help you make clearer decisions, Sundheim says. "You get your best ideas when you get up and walk away from your desk."
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6. Stop making regular visits to the post office. Instead of going to the post office, schedule mail pickups from your business or home office, Duncan says. You also can buy envelopes with pre-paid postage or invest in an inexpensive scale and postage printer.
7. Stop making piles. Eliminating clutter can boost efficiency, Duncan says. Rather than organize papers in piles whose logic is known only to you, stick to a systematic filing system and eliminate any pieces of paper you no longer need.
8. Stop scheduling appointments by phone or email. You can waste a lot of time just trying to find a time that works for a meeting. Instead, use an automated system that does the work for you, Duncan says. She suggests using software, such as Schedulicity or Appointment Quest to let people schedule appointments with you online.
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9. Stop signing every check. Designate a specific day and time for certain tasks, such as signing checks, rather than allow them to randomly interrupt your workflow. Better yet, you can have your signature printed on checks to avoid signing each one. Programs like QuickBooks let you use preprinted checks and keep track of transactions, Duncan says.