'It's not how hard you work, but how smart you work', goes the popular saying. This message can, however, be lost to entrepreneurs who are in constant pursuit of their next customer, as well as having to complete a never-ending to-do-list that comes standard with running a business.
But it is important that entrepreneurs improve not only their performance at work, but that of their employees if they are to make the most of each work day.
Some of the biggest threats to productivity in the workplace are smartphones, the Internet, social media and emails. This is according to a 2015 study by recruitment company CareerBuilder, conducted among US workers. Other threats include interruptions by coworkers, meetings and a noisy office.
To find out what SA entrepreneurs do to work smarter and to remain focused SME South Africa asked six business owners for their best productivity tips.
From the left, Ramona Kasavan, Bongani Gosa, Sam Lin, Mosima Selekisho, Zumurrud Rinquest and Yaron Assabi.
Ramona Kasavan founder and CEO of Happy Days, a company that produces sanitary pads.
Bongani Gosa, founder and creative director at Breeze Website Designers, creative digital agency.
Sam Lin, founder and designer at Sam Star Shoes, a shoe company.
Mosima Selekisho, founding member and director of Talent Africa, a human resource company.
Zumurrud Rinquest, founder of Curious and Creative, a creative design studio that offers advertising and marketing skills to clients large and small.
Yaron Assabi, founder, and CEO of Digital Solutions Group, digital marketing company.
"A team that functions as a single unit is the number one key to productivity" - Bongani Gosa
Q: What is your number one productivity hack?
Time off - Ramona Kasavan says she often takes breaks - either a holiday or a rest day at home when she is feeling overwhelmed.
"That always helps my productivity when I am back. I always joke with my team and say they should send me on holiday more often because I have my best ideas after I’ve rebooted myself."
Get organised - What Mosima Selekisho does to make sure she stays on top of her game is making a to-do list which she updates daily.
"I also plan everything I do. I believe planning is key when running a business. It helps in reviewing the current operations of the business and in identifying what needs to be improved operationally."
Find dedicated time - Zumurrud Rinquest says he makes sure to schedule 45 minutes of what he calls "me time". "Whereby I can use the time to go to the gym, go for a run or just take a walk, to free my mind from the clutter."
"I also try to schedule at least four hours uninterrupted working hours in a day, answering emails and checking social media. I also make my to-do list the evening before for the next day so the plan is ready to be ticked off one point at a time."
Work smarter not harder - I believe in working smart, says Yaron Assabi, who says he also starts his day very early with a clear plan and clear inbox.
"This allows me to focus on meetings during the day as I have a full schedule. I make sure that I plan for my day the day before so that when I get to the office I am well prepared for my meetings and I already know what I would like to achieve from them."
See also: How to be productive in any office setup
Set goals - Writing down all her goals, weekly and monthly and yearly, is how Sam Lin makes sure she remains organised. "I tick the task I have done for the day or for the week. That really helps to write down what you need to do and want to do. It's pinned down all the work I have planned."
Don't underestimate downtime - Downtime is one way a boost productivity, says Bongani Gasa. "During these intervals in the day, I run through things I have to accomplish and ideas are generated. Our office environment is very open and everyone shares and communicates freely. The time spent together during our break also boosts productivity because insights are unearthed and ideas sparked when everyone is comfortable enough to share their perspectives and views."
"I always aim to inspire my employees and try to instill the same values and principles that I myself abide by" - Yaron Assabi
Q: How do you encourage productivity among your entire team and even clients?
Teamwork - Productivity is a team effort, says Gasa. "We continue to train our staff throughout the year to ensure that productivity is improved and we sustain an abiding growth and thrive together. I would say that a team that functions as a single unit is the number one key to productivity. You can only achieve so much in a 12-hour day as one person. I have hand-picked a team of competent, driven and efficient individuals and we all share the common vision of growth. This has allowed me to take a step from daily business operations to focus on strategic direction and the growth of the company."
The ultimate goal is that everyone in a small business understands and is able to perform the tasks and duties that are assigned to other members of the team, says Gasa.
"This guarantees a productive environment. When workers are confident in their own work and performing tasks that are outside their job description (because they have invested time and taken an interest in other areas) they perform better. Also, in the event that one member is not present to perform their duties, productivity can continue because someone else can take over and deliver desired results."
Productivity is not all about work - Kasavan says usually have a weekly team lunch. "I find it helps us relax and boosts not only productivity but creativity as well."
See also: 5 ways to avoid the end-of-year productivity decline
The clients also benefit - Lin says her productivity hacks also benefit their clients. "Writing and talking to clients, we used so much technology to communicate, but a phone call to talk to a client might actually help bring the relationship closer and better communication to understand each other.
Q: What is your strategy for dealing with an unproductive employee?
Be direct- I am a very straight forward person, says Kasavan. "I call a meeting and tell everyone that I am not criticising them personally, but I am not happy with their work. They can either pull their socks up or leave the team because we are a very personal brand and any negativity can have drastic effects on our whole operation."
Encourage timeout - Selekisho says in their organisation they would encourage the employee to take some leave. "A bit of a break assists in boosting motivation."
Communication is key - "I always aim to inspire my employees and try to instill the same values and principles that I myself abide by," says Assabi. "I will also have a meeting with them to discuss what the problem may be and we find solutions to the problem together. I always tell my employees that they should not worry about working hard but work smart and they should focus on producing qualify work.
Maintain a happy workplace - Keep the momentum upbeat by changing the daily routine, says Rinquest. "I also motivate them by sharing great work and good inspiring videos. I ensure that they are given great creative projects such as C&C’s social media to keep them inspired and doing what they love doing. Lastly, my secret is providing them with good coffee, light snacks, great music and vitamins to keep the energy levels up."
See also: Don't work a 9 to 5? Here is how to still be a productive entrepreneur
Offer encouragement and rewards - It is a passionate and driven team and we are all pursuing a shared goal, says Gasa. "There are of course times were we might be feeling discouraged and the pace begins to stagnate. At BWD we have an incentive program that we introduce to encourage the team and increase productivity. We award the best-performing employee, who displays a positive attitude and a drive to 'go the extra mile', with a greatly coveted R1000 TakeALot voucher."
Find out the reasons - "Try to communicate and get to understand the reasons behind them not being productive," says Lin. "I think it's all about communication, if we communicate our thinking and ideas, it really helps to build a better company by understanding each other."
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