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Small Business Owners Work Long Hours…But Get Little Done
by Rieva Lesonsky
May 6, 2022
woman using a laptop feeling overwhelmed

When you’re a small business owner, Parkinson’s Law (“Work expands to fill the time available”) applies. However, you’re not the only one who feels buried under a nonstop avalanche of work. Some 84 percent of business owners work more than 40 hours a week, according to a recent survey from The Alternative Board, and about 10 percent “continuously overwhelmed” by their workload.

I’m truly impressed that 90 percent of business owners don’t feel continuously overwhelmed, especially considering the average business owner in the survey reports having only 1.5 hours of uninterrupted, highly productive time per day. (Sounds about right!)

What's keeping business owners from peak productivity? Here’s what they say:

Poor time management: 35 percent. No matter how much time you have available to get things done, if you don’t use it wisely, you won’t accomplish your goals.

Poor communication: 25 percent. Do you spend a lot of time waiting for answers to questions from clients, prospects, vendors, or your staff? Thinking things through, and communicating enhances productivity. For example, before assigning a new project to an employee, make sure they have all the information they need to get started. Before invoicing a vendor, gather the relevant details.

Personal problems: 18 percent. We all deal with personal issues from time to time. Unfortunately, if your time management skills are weak at the best of times, personal challenges can put you behind the eight ball. Aim to build some open time into your schedule each day; that way, you’ll be able to handle last-minute business and personal emergencies without falling hopelessly behind.

Technology distractions: 16 percent. Smartphones, tablets, texting, and communication apps are a double-edged sword. They make it possible for us to work from anywhere and communicate instantly. However, they also put the entire internet in our pockets, tempting us with endless distractions. (How many times have you gone on Twitter or Facebook to update your business account and gotten sucked in?) In addition, responding to multiple notifications, alerts, and emails on umpteen different devices all day long can eat up time and drain your brainpower.

What’s the biggest time-suck for small business owners in the survey? It probably won't surprise you, but the majority says email eats up most of their time—although only a measly 9 percent say email is the most important use of their time. Also on the list of top time-wasters: are in-person meetings and conference calls/videoconferences. Just 4 percent of business owners say those meetings are always productive.

Being more productive may be easier said than done—but it’s still possible to do. Here are four ideas to help:

1. Limit checking your email to certain times of day.

One-third of business owners in the survey believe this would be the best way they could maximize productivity. While it may not work for every business owner (it doesn’t work for me), setting aside 20 minutes in the morning, early afternoon and before you leave for the day (or whatever cadence makes sense for you) to check emails can minimize multi-tasking and leave you feeling less frazzled.

2. Get a head start.

More than eight in 10 business owners in the survey say the morning is their most productive time of day. Don't waste this valuable time updating social media, sorting travel expense receipts, or holding meetings—set aside the first hour or two of your day for important tasks that require lots of focus. Getting up extra early and working at home for an hour or so before you head to the office can help ensure you aren’t interrupted during this focused time.

3. Find your most productive place.

We all work differently, and while most business owners say they’re most productive at the office, almost one-third say they are more productive when working at home. It depends on what your needs are, what you need to get done, and how you prefer to work. A business owner who has three young children at home may welcome the relative calm and silence of the office, while those with hectic offices and nonstop interruptions may need to hole up at home to get things accomplished.

4. Model the behavior you want to see.

As the leader of your business, you need to set the tone for your employees in terms of maximizing productivity. Try brainstorming with your team to think of ways to eliminate time-wasting habits or processes in your workplace. Share strategies that have helped make you more productive. It’s hard to break habits that eat into our productivity (such as instantly responding to the ding of an incoming email), and working to do it as a team can make it a little easier.

Need more ideas for how to increase your productivity? Put the experts from SCORE on your team to get free, confidential business advice.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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Herndon, VA 20170

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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