howtouseyourbusinessplantotrackyourprogressYour company is running smoothly enough, but you know things could be better. Sometimes, a project gets hung up a few days too long, or meetings that once felt productive and useful now seem to drag on for hours. It can feel like wheels spinning in the mud, and it’s hard to get that traction back.

How can you fix these kinds of issues? By focusing on improving the efficiency of your business. I asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council for their tips on how they keep their businesses running efficiently, which in turn helps them be more productive.

1. Automate whatever tasks you can

Whether it be sending out pay stubs to employees or sending receipts to vendors, automate whatever you can. “Business automation is not just a luxury; it is a necessity in today’s competitive environment,” says Sathvik Tantry of FormSwift. “Automating monotonous tasks saves your employees time and allows them to do more productive tasks that require critical thinking or a human touch.”

Sathvik adds that while it might be pricier to implement automated processes in the beginning, in the long run it will cut costs, as well as increase business efficiency.

2. Encourage your employees to chat face-to-face

While sending a quick email or chat message to a coworker might seem like a more efficient way of getting an answer, oftentimes it can have the opposite effect, as the subsequent back-and-forth can take longer than a quick face-to-face. “Skype, Google Chat and other online communication tools are always helpful when trying to shoot over a quick message to your colleagues,” says Miles Jennings of Recruiter. “However, face-to-face interaction really speeds up the process of solving a problem, answering a question, or getting something important clarified.”

How can you make sure your employees balance the two for optimum efficiency? “Encouraging employees to openly talk with each other when they need to will create a steady flow of information,” says Miles.

While chat and email have their place, by making sure your employees are comfortable communicating face-to-face, you’ll keep your business moving efficiently, and a problem that could have been solved in a five-minute face-to-face chat won’t end as a 20-message-long email thread.

3. Limit interruptions

Staff meeting at 9am, department meeting at 11am, lunch at noon—if your employees are having trouble completing tasks efficiently, it might be a result of constant interruptions. “We try to schedule multiple meetings on the same day rather than scattering them throughout the week, and we block out time on our calendars for actively working,” says Alexander Moore of Boomerang. Blocking out chunks of time for uninterrupted work may help your employees focus better, and work more efficiently as a result.

But, meetings aren’t the only offenders—constant email alerts, chat message pop ups, and notifications from your in-house project management software can all serve as distractions that interrupt the flow of work. “In general, it takes about a minute to resume working effectively after an interruption,” says Alexander. “For that reason, we use tools like Inbox Pause to reduce email notifications.” There are plenty of tools and apps to keep your work distraction free, which may help you work more efficiently.

4. Hold a daily, 10-minute company meeting

While meetings are generally considered a necessity, they can carry on to the point where they eat away at the work day. David Ciccarelli of Voices.com suggests shorter, more efficient meetings, that cover the basics in 10 minutes flat.

“Each day, we gather as a company for a 10-minute meeting called the Daily Huddle,” he says. “The meeting serves as a firehose of information that keeps everyone in the loop, including a roundup of our key performance indicators, the celebration of accomplishments, and the identification of opportunities to improve.”

Not only is it a good way to keep all employees up to speed on any new developments within the company, keeping meetings short and sweet forces a streamlined meeting process, and reduces time wasted. “This process keeps us running efficiently, as unnecessary meetings are eliminated,” says David.

5. “Single-task” to get more done

We all think that we’re excellent multitaskers; I currently have 11 tabs open on my laptop—and that’s a conservative number compared with some days. However, it’s thought that while people can potentially multitask, they’re not necessarily being more productive. So, here’s where the idea of “single-tasking” (or focusing on one task only until completion) comes into play.

“Our entire company is currently working on upping our ‘single-tasking’ game and not moving on to the next project until the current one is complete,” says Laura Roeder of Meet Edgar. 

She goes on to explain: “‘Single-tasking’ allows you to get more done quickly by not letting projects rot on the vine when they’re almost complete. It’s easy to falsely feel productive when you have 10 projects going on, but nothing actually getting out into the world.”

Focusing on “single-tasking” until a project is complete helps you actually execute, rather than chipping away at so many different projects that nothing ever gets finished.

6. Discourage “Got a minute?” meetings

“One of the most common and inefficient uses of time and energy are frequent ‘got a minute?’ meetings,” says Kristopher Jones of LSEO. “These meetings are the ones that are unscheduled and typically distract from productivity.”

Why are these meetings bad for office efficiency? “The reality is that almost nothing important can be accomplished in one minute, which means one minute turns into 15 minutes or longer and ends up being a terribly inefficient management of time,” says Kristopher.

Instead, try to schedule quick meetings with a designated time span, and stick to the topic you need to discuss. Even a simple email asking, “Can we meet for 10 minutes at 3pm to discuss the completion of project X?” accomplishes the goals of keeping the meeting short, scheduled, and face-to-face.

7. Stick with the established process

If you have a project that is already underway, trying to speed things up can result in cutting corners. “Stick with the process that is established,” recommends Angela Harless of AcrobatAnt. “If we try to cut corners to speed up the process, something gets missed, which must be fixed later and costs time and money. Things go more smoothly if we stick to the process we started with.”

Does that mean never change things up? Of course not—that would probably render most of our earlier suggestions useless! But, if you’re changing a process, do so deliberately, not just on a whim or because you’re behind schedule. “Processes can be changed, but they should be changed intentionally and with communication to the full team after the potential change has been approved,” says Angela.

8. Use a task management software

“Email isn’t an ideal method of communication or collaboration on teams,” says Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff. “We use task management software like Trello so that our communication and work progress is all in one place.”

A task management software for designated teams can help everyone work together more efficiently, track progress, and stay on task. “It saves everyone the time of having to go back and forth on emails, and it also lets us track progress more efficiently,” says David. Here at Palo Alto Software, we agree—and we’re also big fans of Trello, too.

9. Promote a culture of open communication

Just like in tip number two, encourage your employees to communicate openly. But, that goes beyond the idea of communicating face-to-face to solve problems; do your employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns, or giving feedback on how your company is run?

“The main reason for our explosive growth is due to the fact that we have a culture of open communication,” says Raymond Kishk of Interstate Air Conditioning & Heating. “The best way to improve business efficiency is to encourage feedback, ideas, and communication between departments.”

You can’t be everywhere at once, nor will you see everything. Your employees may be able to spot an area of your company that could be made more efficient, or a process that could be streamlined. Make sure they feel comfortable voicing their opinions, and offering feedback, especially when it comes to improving efficiency. “By encouraging coworkers to be part of the efficiency process, it will result in a more productive and efficient team,” says Raymond.

10. Know when to stop

While it’s important to smooth out as many kinks as possible to help your company run more efficiently, you also need to know where to draw the line. Not every process can—or should—be automated, just like not every meeting will always end at its scheduled time.

“Efficiency is important—no question,” says Neill Feather of SiteLock, LLC. “But for startups and entrepreneurs, focusing too much on efficiency can distract from what is really important for our businesses: growth.”

Neill has experienced this with his own business: “At SiteLock, we do focus on efficiency in key areas: hardware utilization, service-level agreements, etc., but we always remind ourselves that our most important goal is growth. This includes customers served, products offered, and brand strength.”

It’s important to strive for efficiency, but don’t let the goal of running a more efficient business overshadow other goals. Through trial and error, and by getting feedback from your employees throughout the process, you’ll be able to monitor what is working and what isn’t, and improve your business efficiency—all the while continuing to grow and strengthen your business.

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