Ockwick offers us this month the theme “Optimize your life”. I have already had the opportunity to translate articles by Léo Babauta about this subject on my blog Zen Habits, such as Rationalize Your Life or Edit Your Life – 6: A Media Diet. Today I will be providing some tips to allow young entrepreneurs in small businesses or an innovative start-up business to maximize their productivity, even if some tips can be applied by other people. These are tips, both minor or major, that I learned with experience or through my reading :).
How to maximize your productivity: 5 tips to become more efficient
1 – For each thing you do, ask yourself “Is it necessary? Why am I doing it?”
I have said it again and again, but this simple little question, repeated regularly, can save you precious time. Maximizing means doing more of the essential things more effectively and in less time, and what is the best way to do it, by doing away with all the unnecessary work that takes up your time and brings you very little, if nothing?
It’s easy to embark on long and tedious, or even small, frivolous tasks, rather than focusing on what really matters. And there are at least two reasons for that:
Because we want to appear busy, if not productive
If you push the Eiffel Tower all day in the hope of moving it, you will have been very busy; but not very productive. This task will have even no doubt exhausted you.
It seems to me that we Westerners have an unfortunate tendency to want to fill dead time with phony hyperactivity which seems to me to be more of a vain bustle than the deliberate application of constructive efforts in order to achieve an objective. We fear the void and seek to fill it by any means, whether to satisfy others – “the boss sees that I’m working” – or our self-esteem – “I worked hard, I went eight hours in front of the screen”. But at the end of the day, what have we done? Often, we could have produced the same results by working less, but in a more concentrated and efficient manner, and by avoiding engaging in useless tasks or excessive perfectionism of which the sole aim is to kill time by giving us the illusion of working hard.
Because it’s easier to focus on lesser things than on the most important ones
Indeed, the most important things are those that really mean a lot to us, and succeeding or failing to do them is much more impactful and appealing for us than succeeding or failing at lesser and uninteresting tasks. Thus, it’s much easier to be afraid of failing – or even succeeding – at an important task that will determine our progress towards our goal than to fail or succeed in organizing contacts on our Blackberry or finishing the X124-F procedure which nobody will ever read, and which will end up at the bottom of a dusty drawer.
So, frantically engaging in an endless list of secondary tasks to avoid doing what is really important is an integral part of procrastination – the tendency to always put off the actions that we care about – which, according to Wikipedia, is characterized as such, you:
- Wish to do something
- Decide to do it
- Postpone without real good reason
- Notice the drawbacks of this postponement
- However, continue to postpone
- Either you blame yourself, or you find a rational excuse, or you remove the problem
- Continue to postpone
- Succeed in doing your task just in time, with maximum stress; or you finish too late, or you never do it
- You feel guilty for this behavior
- Swear that you’ll never do it again
- Shortly after, you do it all over
For these two reasons, and even for others – weight of the past, habits that we no longer see, etc. – it is easy to do, without thinking about them, tasks which have very little interest and which cost us dearly in time and money compared to the tasks which make up the true value that we bring to the world. So, regularly ask yourself the questions “Why am I doing it? Is it necessary?” allows us to have control over ourselves and to make sure that we devote our time and energy to truly important things.
To know what is important about ourselves, it’s up to us to understand the purpose of our lives and to have set goals. There is so much that has been written on this matter, like here or there on which I will not elaborate for now.
You can roughly identify two types of tasks:
- The ones that really don’t add value and can be eliminated.
- The ones that bring at least a little value, but less than the tasks you could be doing. It’s better to delegate these tasks, which is the subject of the following tip.
To learn more, read The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker.
2 – Try to delegate in order to maximize your productivity – Focus on your talents
There are areas in which you are particularly good and where each hour of work you do will have a much greater impact than any other hour of work done in another area. Ideally, you should devote all your strength to working on your talents and delegating other tasks to people more talented than you in their area. Only then can you generate a maximum value that can be sold at the best price.
Often, young entrepreneurs who start their own small businesses are jacks-of-all trades who are in two places at once. If you have just started your business, you are alone, or you may have a partner and an employee. In any case, there aren’t many of you and you have just started, so you have limited human and financial resources. However, you should be able to find tasks at which you’re not that good and which you could delegate to an external provider for a reasonable cost.
For example, many entrepreneurs make the mistake of wanting to manage their accounting on their own, without having great skills in this area, even though it’s a very thankless task that requires a lot of time, brings little value to the company’s turnover, and where mistakes can be very costly at the same time. Don’t be like them. Delegate it. By searching carefully, you will be able to find a good certified public accountant who will be able to take care of your entire accounting, with tax and social declarations, pay slips and balance sheet, for less than € 2,000 per year.
Here is a tip that I used and that worked well for me to find a good, inexpensive certified public accountant:
- Go to the pagesjaunes.fr website and do a search on “Certified public accountant” in your city.
- Collect all fax numbers in an Excel file.
- Send a standard fax explaining that you are looking for a certified public accountant while requesting that a quote be sent to you by email or fax.
At the time I used an analog modem plugged into my PC, coupled with fax sending software, but nowadays you can use free fax sending services, like fax-gratuit.net, for a bit of advertising. And you can obviously collect email addresses and send an email instead of or in addition to faxes. Next, you just have to wait for the quotes to come in and choose several accountants that you can then meet before you decide. Don’t necessarily choose the cheapest but eliminate all those who are beyond your budget.
- Identify the areas at which you are personally good. Each hour of work spent in these areas will bring a much higher return on investment than any other. You can read Strengths Finder 2.0: Now discover your strengths to find your main strengths.
- Identify the tasks that will allow you to give the most value to your business and thus to make it money. These are the tasks at which you are naturally gifted, and which will somehow turn into hard cash for your business – and therefore for you.
- All other essential tasks should be delegated or outsourced as much as possible.
- Try to prioritize the tasks identified in step 2 rather than those identified in step 3.
- As for non-essential tasks, eliminate them as seen in tip 1.
3 – Identify the 20% of customers who bring you 80% of the results
Here is something I neglected to do for several years – I didn’t know Pareto’s law, and had neither read The 4-Hour Workweek, nor The 20/80 Principle – and if I knew more or less who my best customers were, I didn’t realize that a very small amount of these made up the bulk of my business’s financial performance.
- A small part of the products I offered produced the majority of the results.
- A small part of the services I offered generated the majority of the results.
Don’t be like me. Identify the customers, products and services that bring you the majority of your results. Please note, I am talking about results and not turnover. In the end, it’s above all what matters 😉. Any modern business management software should be able to sort your customers by profitability and show you last year’s earnings for each of them. You may have to export these results to Excel to easily determine which customers together make 80% of your results; otherwise take your good ol’ calculator out 😉.
Once these customers have been identified, ask yourself: is there a common characteristic between all these customers? Perhaps their industry, their size, their equipment, any detail whatsoever? If so, is this characteristic found in other companies that you have not yet thought of canvassing? For example, perhaps your most profitable customers are those who are in a specific industry? Or are they the ones with less than 10 employees? Or another characteristic? What would happen if you could duplicate this typology of customers; and make the majority of customers in your business look like them?
Do the same with your products and services: identify which ones bring you 80% of your results. Then compare with your customers. It’s highly likely that the most profitable products and services will be purchased by the most profitable customers. Why? And why do those customers in particular buy those products and services in particular? Again, is it possible to identify characteristics that will allow you to duplicate the type of customers who buy the most profitable products from you?
This simple analysis should probably surprise you the first time and give you an untold number of leads that will increase your results tenfold ;). Pareto’s law will greatly pay off and help you maximize your productivity.
4 – Increase your rates
Once your business is off to a good start, there will come a time when you work too hard and your business in general is overwhelmed. It can be tempting to hire, but sometimes it’s not a solution, because you don’t want to develop that particular saturated sector, because there is too much work for your current team but not enough to hire a new employee, because you don’t have time to manage a new person, because you can’t find the right candidate, because you don’t want to make your company grow too large, etc.
Increase your rates. It’s something to do regularly even if your business is not completely saturated with work, especially if, like many entrepreneurs, you have made the mistake of starting with a price below the market to gain customers faster. Raising your rates will allow you to eliminate your less attractive customers – often the stingiest and most likely to scream their demands in your face – and to work less to earn more. You can do this selectively for certain products or services, for example, those that bring you 20% of your results for 80% of your efforts.
This can accompany a change of strategy following the discovery of products or services more profitable than others and on which you wish to concentrate all the efforts of your company. So, I recently changed the strategic direction of my company. Initially mainly focused on IT service and maintenance, it now specializes in the development of web software. To complement this strategy, I didn’t hesitate to increase the service rates by 30% on January 1. For the time being, this 30% increase has resulted in a drop of around 30% in service calls, which allows us to work 30% less in this area while earning as much of a living as before, and to give us more time to devote ourselves to our truly profitable products 😉.
5 – Deal with telephone canvassers
If you are starting out, you probably have a small structure and no secretary to screen your calls. And sometimes, you would like to focus on your work rather than having to dismiss the canvassers who want to offer you a type of software, a tax exemption service, toilet paper made by the disabled, an advertisement in a newspaper – free, but where in fact you pay the shipping costs – etc., not to mention the telephone machines which are beginning to proliferate.
In the 8 and a half years that I started my business, not once did one of these salespeople offer me a product or service that convinced me enough to buy it. I’m sure it can happen, but when I think about all the time wasted with these sellers, listening to them and then dismissing them, I think to myself that I probably lost a lot of money because of them.
Fortunately, there is a quick and economical solution to filter 80% of these sales calls. Have you noticed that the overwhelming majority of these calls are made with an unlisted number; while the overwhelming majority of your customers call you with a displayed number? France Telecom recently launched a service called Stop Secret. For 1 € incl. VAT / month, it intercepts all calls from an unlisted number to a fixed number and forces the caller to declare his/her identity, then makes a call to your home, lets you listen to the previously recorded name, and you can decide to take the call or not. Advantage: 80% of salespeople don’t even try and hang up immediately, and that stops the robot calls. Likewise, a customer who calls using an unlisted number could easily get through the filter. I tried it, and it’s really great.
Over the years, I have also developed some talents in the art of quickly and politely dismissing salespeople. Here are my top tips:
- Listen to the hook. In 95% of cases, you will be able to immediately determine whether you are interested; especially since these are generally the same products or services that people try to sell to you by phone.
- If it doesn’t interest you, let the person unload their speech without interrupting. During this time, I generally check my emails. When they’re done, if they’re skillful, they will ask you a question where you are most likely to answer yes. If they don’t ask a question (rare), don’t say anything and let them fill the space; which they will do by asking you a question.
- If you can only answer yes or no to the question, answer no; then explain to your interlocutor why you are not an attractive target for them. For example, if a salesperson wants to offer me tax exemption services, I tell them that I don’t pay taxes. If they want to sell me a telephone operator; I say that we are a very small business and that we make all our calls via the Internet, etc.
- If this is an open question, cut it short by not answering it and saying; “well, unfortunately, that doesn’t interest me because…” and there you explain why you are not an attractive target for your canvasser.
This simple technique allows me to get rid of 99% of canvassers in less than two minutes; and often in less than one, with minimal interruption to my work. In addition, no one gets upset and each person politely says goodbye. Before, I tried to cut it short more brutally, or I tried to argue; or I got carried away by the speech of the person; and it could take me five minutes or more and sometimes each of us hung up angry. A real waste of time and energy.
What about you, what are your tips to boost your entrepreneurial productivity? 😉
Since the subject of this article aims to maximize one’s productivity, the following video explores the subject further. Whether you are a young entrepreneur or an experienced businessman or woman, you will benefit from the tips offered in this video that I filmed during one of my many visits to Brazil entitled “10 actions to do today to boost your productivity ”. Note that this information is taken from the books Getting Things Done (or simply the GTD method) and Cut to the Chase by Stuart Levine 🙂:
5 tips to maximize your productivity as a young entrepreneur:
- For each thing you do, ask yourself “Is it necessary? Why am I doing it?”
- Try to delegate – Focus on your talents
- Identify the 20% of customers who bring you 80% of the results
- Increase your rates
- Deal with telephone canvassers