For many of us, the day involves an ever-growing list of distractions and tasks. And whether we work for ourselves or someone else, we’re less efficient and productive as a consequence.

Although business owners have always had to deal with distractions, arguably, modern technology means there are more of them coming up more frequently. While certain technologies offer businesses many benefits, they can be major efficiency drains if not used productively and with discipline.

Top-five time wasters

Indecision, juggling too much, and not prioritising tasks can all severely impact efficiency when you’re running your own business. But working smarter – not necessarily longer – can boost productivity significantly.

Writing for the Guardian, Alison Coleman listed small-business owners’ top-five time wasters as business meetings (‘arguably the single biggest drain on small business efficiency’), marketing and social media, IT and computing, dealing with suppliers, and good old paperwork (‘almost an invisible time-drain’).

In Eric Barker’s article How to Be Efficient: Dan Ariely’s 6 New Secrets to Managing Your Time on Observer.com, New York Times-bestselling author and Duke University behavioural economist Ariely says email can be another fearsome enemy of efficiency.

Ariely also believes that controlling your working environment rather than letting it control you can make people more efficient. He also recommends combating ‘The Four Horsemen of the Productivity Apocalypse’ – meetings, email, multi-tasking and ‘structured procrastination’ (i.e. ‘doing little things that give us the feeling of progress instead of work that really makes progress’).

Technological assistance

So, while technology can provide unwelcome distractions, it may also help business owners to work more efficiently. As long as they know which processes need a boost. Are endless rounds of meetings getting in the way? Or are you weighed down with organising paperwork for your tax returns?

For managers and owners, the key to greater productivity can be delegation. For example, ‘one-person-band’ sole traders who free up time by using virtual assistants to field calls.

Assistants can come in all shapes (human and non-human), but they can be judged based on how well they keep you organised and able to do what you do best. Small businesses of all types now use apps to improve business performance and boost efficiency, helping time-poor business owners to remain organised. Of course, budget permitting, you can even develop your own app to improve your processes.

Enter the words ‘best apps for small businesses’ into Google and you’ll find that newspaper, finance, tech, small business and large corporate websites all offer their recommendations on the best apps for small businesses. According to the Guardian, the average person now uses 27 apps a month, with Apple and Google’s app stores both offering more than 1m apps, many aimed at small businesses – and many free to download and use.

Productive discussion

Although there is no conclusive proof that apps help small businesses to be more productive, research published by PeoplePerHour in 2013 made some quite remarkable findings.

More than half (51 per cent) of business owners polled spent at least two hours a day working on a mobile device. Two-thirds of business owners relied on mobile apps to run their businesses while on the move, and three-quarters used smartphone apps every day to improve productivity, track expenditure and organise their diaries.

So, how do you maximise the productivity offered by technology, without becoming distracted by it? Thomas Hansen, Worldwide Vice President of Small and Medium Businesses at Microsoft, was asked this very question by Entrepreneur.com. He replied, ‘There’s no hard and fast rule, but in my experience, I’ve learned to check in with myself periodically and ask some blunt questions about how I’m using technology.’

In other words, if clearing your email inbox is an item on your to-do list, see that fourth horseman above.

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