Ever since the industrial revolution, businesses have been on a non-stop search for additional ways to increase the amount of work produced by a single employee. From implementing Six Sigma process-improvement strategies to working with highly compensated management-consulting firms; entire industries have been created around helping companies find a competitive edge by being more efficient. As a small- or medium-sized business, not only are you forced to compete with larger companies who can invest more in efficiencies and exploiting their economies of scale, but productivity can wind up being the determining factor between your business’s success and failure.
At small businesses in particular, the largest limitation on the company is often the number of available man-hours to produce work. A man-hour is simply one employee working one hour, so for a company with 4 employees working 12 hours a day, you would have 48 man-hours per day in order to do work. If your budget won’t allow you to add additional staff, and Mother Nature won’t allow you to add hours to the day, then in order to be as competitive as possible you need to make sure that your team can do with 48 man-hours as much or more than your competitors can with whatever resources they have in a given day.
So how do you and your team get more work done using fewer man-hours? I spoke with Michael Jaccarino, CEO of Michael Jaccarino Technologies, an IT consulting and staffing firm, to learn what productivity tools and services can help you get started with your business.
(Note: Neither I nor Michael Jaccarino have any affiliation with these businesses.)
Outsource Large or Ongoing Virtual Tasks
Outsourcing large and/or ongoing tasks that can be performed virtually is often tremendously productive when done correctly. Not only can you hire a freelancer on a per-project or hourly basis to avoid paying another full-time salary, but because these assignments can be done virtually, there's no need to fund additional real estate (office space, desks, etc.) or equipment (computer, phone, etc.). To find a virtual freelancer for large or ongoing projects, try using Elance (#1) or ODesk (#2)
Outsource Small Virtual Tasks
If you have a single small project that you’re looking to hire someone to help you with, then Fiverr (#3) is a great resource. The site is designed around tasks that cost $5 or more, but as the name suggests the site focuses on smaller-scale, one-off projects. It’s the perfect service to help you design a simple logo, create business cards, and translate marketing materials for $5.
Hire Virtual Assistants
If you or your team is spending too much time on logistical coordination instead of high-value work that generates profits for your business, then it might be time for you to hire a virtual assistant.
"The use of a virtual assistant has become more acceptable in recent years as online tools such as Skype, Basecamp and Google Calendar have made it more simple to keep in touch with the home office and do clerical tasks from afar," Jaccarino says. "To make sure that a virtual assistant is a right fir for you, you should try them out on a smaller project and see how they perform. If they meet or go above your needs, then you should keep them for larger tasks."
If you’re bogged down managing travel arrangements, meetings, press and media requests, responding to email and other low-value responsibilities, Brickwork (#4) and Tasks Every Day (#5) can help match you with the perfect virtual assistant to free your time so you can focus on the most important parts of running your business.
Virtual help is great, but sometimes there are tasks that you simply can’t assign to a virtual worker, regardless of how talented they are. If you need help with in-person assignments, then TaskRabbit (#6) is the service you’ve been looking for,.
Whether you want to move personal tasks like grocery shopping and laundry off of your to-do list so you can focus more on growing your business, or you need help with manual activities like data entry from physical contact forms or setting up and breaking down a room for a major meeting, you can hire someone who has undergone a thorough background check from TaskRabbit to assist you.
Distractions are one of the largest causes for lost productivity. It happens to everyone. We log on to our social media profiles or favorite news site, and then look at the clock an hour later to find we’ve been surfing the web the whole time. Admittedly, there’s no way for us to focus uninterrupted on a single tasks for a full work day — our brains just don’t have that capacity — but sometimes we also need help making sure our recovery time doesn’t take away half of our workday by accident. Services like Rescue Time (#7) or browser extensions like Stay Focused (#8) for Chrome and LeechBlock (#9) for FireFox can help you block unproductive sites during business hours, except for defined periods of break time. These tools can help force you back on track when your mind wants to keep wandering the never-ending web of content online.
Physical and Digital Note Organization
"The amount of data and information produced by businesses today has grown exponentially from even a decade ago, and keeping track of everything can be a challenge," Jaccarion says, which is why he recommends businesses use Evernote (#10).
Evernote can help you organize your physical and digital notes to be accessible anywhere you have internet access — whether that’s your smartphone, tablet, personal laptop, or a public computer terminal. In addition to letting you write digital notes, you can also scan documents or take photographs of things you want to remember, and Evernote will process the image so that any text inside it can be identified and found using the search bar.
What are your company’s favorite productivity tools and services? Share them with me in the comments!