When clients email on-the-go stylist Majella McMahon, they receive an automatic response.
“Hello there. Thanks for getting in touch and sending me an email,” it says. “I only check email once a day. This is because I’m either styling up a storm, presenting a workshop or talk, doing research for my upcoming clients or creating mood boards and personal branding profiles.”
This is all part of the productivity drive McMahon embarks upon to run her Brisbane-based styling and branding business The Stylery Co.
McMahon says auto replies are useful to inform clients about her availability, response expectations and alternative contacts if urgent.
It’s a rare small business owner who wouldn’t like more hours in the day. But while none of us can have more than 24 in a day, there are ways to make those hours work harder.
McMahon says while technology such as email can certainly eat into productive time, it can also save time. Her time saving tips include organising apps and automated booking programs such as Acuity.
Entrepreneur and SEO expert Kate Toon agrees that managing email is critical.
“As soon as you open your inbox you go into reactive mode, doing what other people want you to do,” she says. “Instead, I write a to-do list the night before, and focus on that for at least two hours before I even open my inbox.”
She also uses the Pomodoro method to boost productivity, working intensely for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break. “It makes me laser-focused,” she says.
It’s an approach also favoured by McMahon, who uses a 45-minute timer to work, then shifts her focus to other tasks, before she attends to another 45-minute block.
Timing is everything
However, Toon’s key strategy for juggling her busy work-life – she manages three businesses, three podcasts, five Facebook groups, courses, online shops, speaking events and more – is making the most of her peak productivity time.
For her, that is early morning and she uses it to “lick the frog”.
“It means to start on the most difficult task,” she says. “Okay, you might not complete it, but chipping away at it each day will make it less overwhelming. Start with the tough stuff first!”
Virtual assistant and event management consultant Peta Wolff also favours scheduling your work to suit your personal rhythms.
The former personal assistant to Virgin Blue Co-founder Brett Godfrey – who often worked with the legendary businessman Richard Branson – juggles the demands of many small business owners and entrepreneurs through her business, I’ve Got Time For That.
“Know your best working hours,” she says.
If you’re a morning person, she says, do the important tasks first and leave other housekeeping for later.
She also suggests creating a reading file within email to keep a log of all the reports, admin memos and other documents that require attention.
Wolff saves her “reading file” for flights or weekends – “on the back deck with a glass of wine by my side”.
Know your strengths
Western Australian winemakers Mijan Patterson and Liv Majorana are the force behind the small-batch South by South West label, which won this year’s Young Gun of Wine People’s Choice Award for their wine, which is produced using minimal intervention.
Patterson says by operating as a business partnership they can divide and conquer to split responsibilities and tasks efficiently. She says they often travel separately interstate, but at the same time, so they can meet individually with clients in person.
They focus on their strengths, both for business tasks and within the business. They delegate to contractors for complex skills sets, for example final bottling, accounting and taxation.
And in the business, they each bring their own value. “Whilst both of us have a hand across all aspects to varying degrees, my main roles include the overall brand identity and marketing, along with the vineyard maintenance and viticulture practices, and Liv is focused in the cellar with the winemaking and overall production,” she says.
Delegate, delegate, delegate
It’s a philosophy echoed by Katie Forsythe, who has operated the national network of The Baby Sleep Company since 2012, as well as caring for the four children she shares with her partner.
Her top tips include delegating non-core tasks. “You didn’t start your journey as an entrepreneur to get bogged down with the administration side of it and it most likely isn’t your strong point,” she says.
“It may feel scary to have someone else be responsible for parts of your business, but by freeing you from the everyday mundane tasks, you’re able to focus on growing your business.”
She also cuts back on non-billing time by creating email templates. She says by using a pre-written email as a signature, in Outlook, it saves time and effort re-writing effectively the same email. “You can still inject personality; you’re just skipping writing it over and over again,” she says.
And finally, Forsythe also controls her email by batching tasks. “Rather than switching from one task to a different one and back again, staying focused on like tasks will mean that you get through them more quickly,” she says.
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