Is Technology Killing Your Productivity? – By automating time-consuming drudgery and offloading brain-draining tasks like managing budgets and organizing records, the office can increase productivity. The same technology, on the other hand, can be a time-waster if misused.
Because of its novelty or because it’s what they’ve been using for years, business owners frequently become overly reliant on a specific tool or app, without giving much thought to whether it’s making their companies and employees more productive.
Take Bryan Council, co-founder, and president of Metro Monitor, a broadcast news monitoring firm based in Birmingham, Ala. He reevaluated the 18-year-old company’s technology processes two years ago. Switching from Word and Excel to the online Google Docs applications was one of the most significant changes he made. The web-based automatic version tracking functions eliminate the need for employees to pass documents around or rename files after making changes, and service upgrades are made automatically.
“On the conservative side, I’d say we save about three hours per week [after switching to Google Docs],” Council says.
We polled small-business owners to find out which apps they find to be the most time-consuming. They’ve compiled a list of the top seven and provided suggestions for how to improve efficiency.
1. Contact management apps
Client contact information is frequently not stored in a centralized application by businesses. Instead, employees maintain separate contact lists that are spread across various apps, such as Apple Address Book, and popular email services, such as Google’s. It is inefficient to waste time asking around for contact information or, worse, not finding it at all.
Solution: Council recommends moving contacts online with Salesforce, a database that can be accessed by any employee anywhere and has fields for recording details about client interactions, for the same reason he likes Google Docs. Depending on the features, pricing ranges from $5 to $25 per user per month.
2. Social media apps.
People can waste time using social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for business promotion if they jump at every message or troll constantly for mentions of their company or other topics.
Solution: To begin, avoid using a web browser to monitor social media apps. According to Glenn Phillips, president of San Francisco-based computer consulting firm Forté, active social networkers should use a free dashboard app like TweetDeck or Hootsuite. Users can schedule multiple social posts at once using dashboards, which aggregate multiple services for a quick overview.
Consider checking messages at predetermined intervals as well. Council recommends saving searches on Twitter to collect mentions for later reading. He also suggests creating a separate email account dedicated solely to social media so that your updates don’t interfere with important work emails.
Checking and responding to email can be time-consuming if not appropriately prioritized, according to Jared Goralnick, founder of AWAYfind, a maker of email alert software based in Walnut, Calif. According to him, people often respond to emails in which they arrive rather than in the order of importance.
Solution: Non-urgent emails that may take more than a few minutes to respond to should be moved to a prioritized task list, according to Goralnick. Upgrade to Microsoft Outlook 2007 or 2010 if you’re still using Outlook 2003, which offers better, faster searches and eliminates the need for meticulous filing.
4. Microsoft PowerPoint
Both extremes can hamper your productivity and that of your audience: too little information on a slide can make your presentation challenging to follow. At the same time, too much information can be too much work for you and mind-numbing for others.
Solution: Tim Crawford, chief information officer of Foster City, Calif.-based small-business IT consulting firm All Covered, recommends keeping information on slides to a minimum and using bullets to highlight key points. He claims that the presentation’s real “meat” should be delivered verbally. If more detailed information is required, one option is to provide it as a handout afterward.
5. Instant Messengers
Employees can communicate for long periods using instant messengers such as AOL Instant Messenger and Google Chat. The issue, as with texting, is that having one full conversation rather than a series of snippets is usually faster.
Solution: Only use it to communicate with employees who work in remote offices or within hearing distance. Please keep it simple when you do send a message. If the conversation necessitates more than a few back-and-forth messages, use the phone.
6. Microsoft Access database
Attorneys and other business users frequently use Access to store the thousands of records required for a complicated case. However, this software, which starts at $200, has limitations and can be slow when searching the database, according to Bill McComas, a partner at Baltimore law firm Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler.
Solution: Try using a structured query language (SQL) database, such as Oracle’s cloud-based offerings, for large projects with thousands of documents. SQL databases are designed specifically for managing large amounts of data. Oracle Database XE is a free entry-level database. The Standard Edition One, which is more advanced, costs $180 per person per year. To set them up, you’ll need an experienced database programmer.
Consider using Evernote for small projects. You can take notes, drag and drop documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, and even audio and video files into this free app. A browser plugin is also used to capture Web pages. A $5 monthly fee adds cloud backup and enhanced search capabilities and document version tracking.
7. Google Analytics
While Google Analytics is a useful, free tool for tracking traffic and trends on a website, it can become addictive for people who become “fixated,” constantly checking how a business site performs, according to Phillips.
Solution: For some businesses, Google’s Web metrics may be more important than for others. Unless your company is web-based and your traffic is a direct function of your revenue, Phillips says that checking this app once every couple of weeks is probably “sufficient” for most businesses.