As a micro-business manager, your to-do list never ends. From keeping your clients and colleagues happy to organising your accounts and marketing & sales, there never seem to be enough hours in the day.
And that’s precisely the problem: there aren’t. There’s no productivity tool or app that can magically make more hours appear either. So what’s the trick?
It’s not about working harder or longer – it’s about working smarter.
You’ll never be able to complete all small tasks if you want to succeed in the long-term.
But you can learn how to manage both you and your team efficiently enough to achieve maximum productivity and business growth.
Smart management tips for micro-business owners
Manage for productivity
There’s a common assumption that demanding, high-pressure work environments encourage productivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cut-throat leaders are no good for business: they make employees sick, cause disengagement and induce a lack of loyalty.
Managing for productivity doesn’t mean enforcing it through pressure. It means fostering it through good people management practices.
According to the CBI, UK firms that improve their people management can enjoy 19% higher productivity levels.
UK employees are among the least engaged in Europe but 72% said they would work harder if they felt their managers appreciated them. And if UK businesses improved people management by just 7%, £110bn could be added to the local economy.
A McKinsey study also found that good management improves both ROI and work-life balance – a dream for over-worked micro-business owners.
So what do ‘good’ people management skills look like? According to Harvard Business Review, it’s about capitalising on what’s unique about each employee.
For small enterprises, that means identifying each employee’s strengths and then distributing tasks according to their skill set.
Not only will they perform them much better and faster, but they’ll also reduce other employee’s workloads. Which means those employees can then focus on what they’re uniquely skilled at.
And that’s exactly what managing for productivity is.
Remember all those small tasks you worried about earlier? The trick is to delegate them according to each employee’s unique strengths.
You’ll be passing on tasks they’ll enjoy (who doesn’t like working on stuff they’re good at?) and freeing up your time to work on important things. A win-win situation.
UK employees are among the least engaged in Europe but 72% said they would work harder if they felt their managers appreciated them”
Practice the 80/20 principle
Because you’re busy running a business, you can’t invest the same amount of time into everything you do. Even if you’d like to, it’s humanly impossible.
To help your company grow, your time is best spent focusing on the most crucial tasks. The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of a company’s results come from 20% of the efforts.
To quote Richard Koch, author of The 80/20 Principle, ‘a few things are important; most are not.’
In other words, of the ten (or so) tasks on your to-do list today, the outcome of two tasks will turn out to be worth more than the combined outcome of eight.
Many micro-business managers fall into the trap of spending too much time on the 80% of tasks that contribute little to business success, and not enough on the 20% that move the business forward.
The next time you write your to-do list, keep your goals in mind. What do you want to achieve this week? Increase revenue? Improve customer service? Keep employees happy?
Then ask yourself which of those tasks will contribute most towards achieving that goal. That’s how you know you’re focusing your time and efforts in the right place.
Start with the most important task
Do you ever feel like you’re busy all day but have accomplished very little at the end of the day? It’s easy to start your day answering emails or completing a small business administration task before getting to the important stuff. But the problem of working on low-value tasks first is that it leads to mental fatigue.
As Josh Davis Ph.D describes in his book Two Awesome Hours, every task – even the smallest of them – requires us to make decisions. And decision making leads to mental fatigue, which reduces our ability to perform at our best.
You don’t even need to be making big decisions to deplete your energy levels. Even typical, everyday, unimportant decisions – like which email to respond to first – can cause mental fatigue.
And being fatigued means you don’t have the brainpower to complete other tasks as well. A study of UK employees found that 59% feel they’re less productive and have difficulty concentrating when they experience fatigue.
Similarly, research done in the United States found that fatigued employees experience a decline in cognitive functions including attention, vigilance and memory performance.
In other words, the more time you spend on small tasks, the lower your ability to perform important tasks well.
Resist the temptation to clear up small things first. Always start with the tasks that are in the top 20% of your to-do list.
Develop a culture of trust
In the UK, hiring a replacement employee can cost up to £30,000 – a staggering figure for micro-businesses.
Larger businesses may have a human resources team to keep turnover low, but as a small business manager, you have something way better: a work family. And the best way to keep your work family committed is to develop a culture of trust.
As human beings, we’re hardwired to make social connections by developing trust within hours of being born.
And as an employer, placing trust in your employees can make them 50% less likely to leave, and 88% more likely to recommend the company. Employees that feel trusted are also 76% more engaged and 50% more productive.
According to Rotterdam School of Management, the best way to build up that trust is to act as a self-sacrificing leader.
Jonathan Haidt, NYU’s Professor of Ethical Leadership, found that leaders that go out of their way to help others, inspire their teams to be loyal and committed.
Employees of self-sacrificing leaders are also likely to mirror their actions by helping out colleagues, making the team more cooperative and productive in general.
What’s more, this helps colleagues appreciate each other’s strengths, which encourages a positive work culture. And a positive work culture has been proven to make employees more productive.
Make time for training
Another great way to foster a positive work culture is to make time for your employees to do regular training.
For businesses, the overarching benefits of regular training include increased sales, higher productivity, bigger profits, reduced costs and improved quality of work.
But research has also revealed that training positively influences an employee’s work commitment and loyalty.
Employees that are regularly encouraged to do training become more interested in their job and want to learn how to improve. They also develop ‘levels of inner satisfaction’ as they feel they’re given an opportunity to progress career-wise.
And employees who perceive they have the opportunity to develop new skills are more satisfied with their jobs, more loyal, and more likely to stay with the company.
Research has also found that training doesn’t just pay off in the short-term: by encouraging employees to develop new skills, the business is able to better adapt to any future uncertainties.
Be a role model
Regardless of whether you’re just starting your business or have been going for a while: it’s never too late to implement more productive management practices.
Just make sure you set a good example for your employees because you’re 4x more likely to succeed if you role-model the desired changes.
After all, studies have found that employee productivity is a direct result of how productive managers are as workers.
If a manager is performing well, so is the employee – and vice-versa.
Have a read of how managers influence productivity to find out more.
It’s not the size that matters
Small companies can get just as much out of their team as large organizations – it’s not the size that matters, but how skilfully small business owners manage both themselves and their people.
Managing for productivity, implementing an 80/20 principle and developing a positive work culture are key ways for micro-business leaders to work smarter.
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