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How to work less without hurting your small business

A business owner getting work done while on hold.

If you were brave enough to start a business, then there’s no doubt that you’re a passionate entrepreneur with a strong work ethic. However, chances are your family, friends, and pets miss having you around. While it’s understandable for you to prioritize the business and give it the care and attention it requires, this doesn’t mean you have to work 24/7 for it to be successful. 

Running a business includes many time-consuming tasks. It can sometimes feel so overwhelming that growth sounds impossible to small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners. But, what if we told you you could reduce the hours spent on some tasks—earning valuable time to hang out with loved ones or grow your business—without reducing output? 

5 simple ways to cut back on work hours and get more done 

Working harder or longer isn’t always the smartest way to increase productivity. Here are five tried and tested ways to do more work with less time.

#1 Plan ahead

It can be tempting to jump right into your tasks first thing in the morning without “wasting time” on planning your day. Having a schedule, on the other hand, prevents decision fatigue, as it’s always clear what you need to do next. 

According to a study by researchers from Florida State University and the University of Minnesota, the average American makes 10,000-40,000 decisions and switches between around 300 tasks during a single work day. Having to decide on something new to tackle every time you finish a task is a huge waste of time and it’s also exhausting. 

Instead, take 30 minutes at the beginning of each day to see what you’re up against, set realistic goals, and prioritize tasks. When planning your schedule, it’s important to allocate a time frame for each task and stick to it. 

This is crucial because our brains are wired to prioritize tasks perceived as urgent. Simply setting a timeframe with a strict, yet realistic deadline makes it more likely you’ll get the task done quickly and efficiently. 

Imagine, for example, that you need to file a report sometime by the end of the day and it’s only 9 a.m. It shouldn’t take you more than an hour to prepare so you might find yourself starting to work on it, then taking a break to tackle a phone call or an email that just came in. After all, the report isn’t that urgent, right? Before you know it, it’s lunchtime and you still haven’t finished the report. If you had started your day by setting a schedule, which would have taken you 30 minutes, you could have started the report by 9:30 and finished it by 10:30, leaving you with two extra hours before lunch to move on to the next item on your agenda. 

This brings us to our next tip. 

#2 Eat a frog or two for breakfast

Every profession has its frogs: Those pesky tasks that are difficult, time-consuming, complicated, or just plain boring. Whether your least favorite task of the day is paying the bills, filing that report, or writing your company’s newsletter, tackle them first thing in the morning.

Why? Because we often spend more time avoiding the tasks we dread than it would take us to actually do them. So, instead of wasting time procrastinating, just swallow that frog early on—every other task you tackle later in the day will feel like a breeze.  

#3 Utilize waiting time

On average, Americans wait seven minutes for their morning lattes at the coffee shop, 32 minutes every time they go to the doctor, and 20 minutes stuck in traffic every day. That’s a lot of downtime that typically goes to waste. 

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Waiting time is perfect for quick and easy tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration. You can use it to reply to text messages or emails, catch up on industry news (if you’re driving, you can listen to a relevant podcast instead of reading), send meeting invitations, or organize your daily schedule. Even if it’s just five minutes, it adds up. You’ll be amazed how much more you can squeeze into your day just by utilizing this otherwise useless time.  

#4 Automate repetitive tasks

Doing the same thing over and over again is frustrating, prone to error, but sometimes necessary. Luckily, there are tools out there that can automate many of these tasks so you don’t have to worry about them every time. 

You can easily automate: 

  • Periodic orders. Office supplies, groceries, and any other perishable items can be purchased with a subscription. This way, if you know you tend to run out of printing paper every two months, you can just set up an automatic order. Many larger online retailers offer this option but you can probably also set up an arrangement with a smaller local merchant—they’ll appreciate your repeat business, and you may even get a discount. 
  • Recurring payments. Using a digital payment tool, such as Melio, you can set up payments to the same vendor to go out automatically every month. This is perfect for rent, utilities, or installments as you’ll no longer have to manually send them each time. 
  • Emails and texts. If you get a lot of correspondence you typically reply to the same way—for example by asking for the customer’s name, contact details, and reason for reaching out—there’s no need for you to manually send this message over and over again. You can set up auto-replies, requesting the relevant details and informing customers on when to expect to hear back.
    For more complicated scenarios, you can also use a browser extension to create snippets of text that are entered manually with a push of a button. This saves you time and eliminates repetitive typing, but still allows you to maintain control and customize your message.

#5 Batch tasks 

Switching between different types of tasks is a surefire way to lose focus and waste time. To avoid that, try to bulk together smaller tasks that are similar or occur in the same settings or mindset. So, when you’re creating your daily schedule, set an hour or two for every type of task, instead of just going back and forth. 

Tasks that can easily and effectively be done in bulk include, for example:

  • Replying to emails
  • Returning calls
  • Paying the bills (especially if you schedule future payments in advance with Melio)
  • Scheduling social media posts
  • Meetings with customers or partners

Take back time

You can’t turn back time but you can take some of it back by working more efficiently. Following the five tips above will save you hours every week, which you can choose to invest back in the business or in yourself and your loved ones. 

If you’re looking for even more ways to save time, sign up for Melio, a simple and free online tool for business payments.

*This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.