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19th August, 2019

How not to overthink overwork

Procrastination and decision paralysis are both productivity killers for SMEs, but there are ways to overcome and become more effective as a business.

Do small business owners really work longer hours than doctors?

According to online lender to small business, Prospa, as 16 percent of Australian SME owners put in more than 60 hours a week and a quarter had their nose to the grindstone over the full seven days, they are working longer hours than some doctors.

Ever-increasing regulation and compliance obligations are an obvious burden, but the cumulative issues involved in running a successful SME are such that, according to a new survey by international management consulting company The Alternative Board (TAB), 72 percent feel overwhelmed by their roles and responsibilities.

Given that in the TAB study the average business owner reported having only 1.5 hours of uninterrupted, highly productive time each day, when factored against Prospa’s finding that in total over a quarter work 50-plus hours each week, it doesn’t amount to nearly enough time to effectively manage and grow the business.


Prioritising productivity


Little wonder, then, that in the TAB survey SME owners cited poor time management as the number-one productivity killer for their business, with the majority spending most of their time on email, even though just nine percent said it is the most important use of their time.

“Sometimes you need to disconnect to get your work done,” OURTEL Solutions chief executive Ruth MacKay said. Overthinking it is not going to help and can frequently lead to decision paralysis. The temptation to try to rush things can be equally counterproductive.

Of course, it can be extremely tricky to spend enough time and yet not too much time on specific business tasks.

“You’ve got to think about the impact of delivering something underwhelming that could damage your brand in the long term, just to get it done,” said Presentation Studio chief executive Emma Bannister.

“Your version of ‘urgent’ could be very different from someone else’s version of ‘urgent’.

“People and clients will respect you if they know they can come to you for quality, not for a rushed job.”

Unfortunately, even the best thought out plans can go off the rails.

“That’s why it’s important to set yourself a soft deadline before a major project is due,” MacKay added.

“This is particularly important if your tasks rely on contributions from others.

“Share this soft deadline with your colleagues to create a buffer zone for yourself in case any of their contributions are late.”

READ: 5 productivity tips from a small business success

Procrastination can be difficult to overcome, but a good solution is to break a project down into smaller parts, each with its own “sub-deadline”, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Setting individual milestones integral to achieving the overall result can help you to prioritise key elements and visualise whether you are on top of the workload.

Obviously, some business decisions are more difficult than others and diligently researching all the issues involved is essential, but becoming mired in a mountain of information is not only going to take up more of what little time you may have but potentially lead to analysis paralysis.


Staying organised


You don’t necessarily need the latest smartphone or cutting-edge time management app to stay abreast of even conflicting tasks, although the technology can help in highly complicated situations that involve multiple stakeholders, files and monitoring the progress of smaller, delegated tasks.

In many situations, a simple desk or wall calendar will do the trick (which is, of course, to always stay organised).

As MacKay noted, as far as practically possible, avoid distractions such as low-priority emails, non-essential meetings, social media notifications and any other interruptions that can and usually will compromise your focus and productivity.

She suggested always tackling the most difficult task first because once that is completed, it is far less likely you will procrastinate over whatever else needs to be achieved.

“The trick to procrastination is to prepare well ahead, and when it comes right down to it, just do it,” Bannister said.

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