Keeping your small business productive Featured

8:00pm EDT June 28, 2005

It's 5:00 p.m. and you are forced to make a difficult choice. Do you stay late another night and finish up your project, or do you leave for home and bring your work with you? For a large number of Indianapolis professionals and small business owners, it isn't a pleasant choice. Yet, it is one they make every day. The increasing crush of e-mail, voicemail and meetings lead to an onslaught of daytime distractions that make it impossible to work.

Add to that the proliferation of new gadgets hitting store shelves each month, and the option to work anytime, anywhere becomes less of a luxury and more of a burden. Employers and clients have become used to -- and sometimes expect -- replies to late night e-mails and weekend phone calls.

So, how can you avoid the trap of staying late at the office or allowing your work to creep home with you? There is no single solution. However, there are a few key practices that can help.

Give your inbox a break. Many of us have an irresistible urge to check our e-mail the moment that we hear the familiar chime. However, if you're in the middle of a project and are constantly checking e-mail, it can throw your schedule into a tailspin. Try turning off your e-mail for part of the day. It may only be for an hour, but this will allow you to focus on what's important. If your employees or clients expect instant responses, let them know you are using a new time management strategy and will respond to their e-mail within two to three hours, or later in the day.

Master your phone. With the invention of voicemail and caller ID, it's become easier to decide whether you want to take a call. However, many workers still can't resist the urge to pick up on the first ring, no matter who is calling. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with screening your calls if you are in the middle of a busy project. Let your callers leave a voicemail message, then dedicate a particular time of day to return messages. If you return messages in bulk, it will be much faster and more efficient. You might even alert callers on your voicemail that you return calls between certain hours or times of the day.

Cut the chitchat. While it's great to converse with your employees and clients, you must also set the stage for productivity in your workplace. We all know about those chatty coworkers who take water cooler talk well beyond the water cooler. If you are fortunate enough to have your own office, don't be afraid to shut the door when you're swamped. Put up a sign alerting employees that you are on deadline and can only be interrupted in emergencies. If you work in an open environment, place a sign on the back of your chair and let coworkers know you simply cannot talk until your project is complete.

Keep your home and work lives separate. It's difficult for small business owners to avoid taking work home, but make sure you set clear boundaries between the two. Exercise or pursue a favorite hobby. Dedicate a "family night" one evening a week. Or, consider going back to school. Several colleges in Indianapolis offer night and weekend classes that cater to working parents. Do everything possible to set a firm time for your free time.

While not everyone may be able to implement all of these strategies, they are good starting points. By taking a close look at your time management, you can reduce your work time and start enjoying your free time.

Simon Lumley is vice-president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. For more information log onto www.phoenix.edu. Have other time-saving or organizational tools? Share them with Lumley at simon.lumley@phoenix.edu or 317-585-8610.