The holidays mark a time of chaos for businesses of all stripes, and small businesses aren't immune. Even if you aren't in the retail industry, chances are the holidays mean accelerated marketing efforts and promotions to make the most of Q4.
While you may have automation in place to alert you when inventory is low or to push promotions to your marketing list, there are simply some things you can't program. So we've picked the brains of a few small-business experts and consultants for advice on how you can survive, thrive, and get more done during the holiday rush. Here's what they had to say.
1. Let your team explore their creative side.
It's no surprise that employee engagement tanks when the holidays are around the corner. With vacation time, holiday parties, and travel to look forward to, it can be difficult to get top-notch work out of your team.
Tim Elmore (@TimElmore), president of the leadership training organization Growing Leaders, suggests letting employees take on a creative project. "Progressive companies like 3M and Google have found success in offering employees time to work on a project of their choosing," Elmore says. "And as a result, it helps them feel more engaged."
As we note in "Why Small Businesses Shouldn't Hire 70% of Employees," engaged employees are productive employees. You can also help employees stay engaged by allowing flexible work schedules. Gallup's "State of the American Workplace" survey shows that telecommuting employees tend to be more engaged and productive than in-office employees, and it might be a nice perk to offer your staff during the holidays.
2. Plan ahead.
Author, speaker, and productivity consultant Helene Segura (@LivingOrderSA) suggests scheduling your family obligations well before the holidays hit. She says, "As social invitations roll in, you'll be able to take a look at your calendar and decide if you want to attend that function, put that time toward work, or maybe you just want to relax at home and recharge during the busy holiday season."
Segura also notes the only way to get ahead is to plan ahead. She suggests brainstorming a list of all projects that must be completed between now and January 10 and mapping out each step to tackle those projects. "Assign due dates for each step, and then share this project timeline with each party involved," Segura recommends.
3. Cut down distractions.
You and your team are distracted enough during the holidays, so rein in what you can. Maura Thomas (@mnthomas), founder of management and productivity training company Regain Your Time, suggests turning off the automatic download function on your email so that messages only come in when you manually retrieve them.
"Set aside time to click that retrieve button only two to three times per day, allowing yourself at least one full minute (or until you're done – whichever comes first) for each message," Thomas advises. "Take the same approach with your Twitter feeds and your other social media tools."
If you can't be trusted not to compulsively refresh your inbox (we've all been there), try an app like Inbox Pause, which does exactly what it promises: it pauses your inbox so you can focus on the tasks at hand.
4. Vacation like you mean it.
Dave Crenshaw (@DaveCrenshaw), a small business coach and author of The Myth of Multitasking: How 'Doing It All' Gets Nothing Done, reminds us that taking a break is part of the productivity cycle. (Need convincing? Check out our post "Could Your Business Use a Boost? Try Looking at Puppies, Says Science.") Crenshaw recommends you commit to taking some time off, which means putting down the smartphone and being present when you spend time with family.
Crenshaw also warns that you shouldn't try to juggle too much at once, whether you are at work or taking some hard-earned relaxation time. "Those who attempt to multitask during the holidays take longer to perform tasks, make more mistakes, and increase their stress levels," he says.
That's the last thing you need this time of year.
5. Consider your staffing needs and your staff's needs.
At this time of year, help around the office may be scarce, especially if several employees take the same days off. David Dourgarian (@TempWorks), CEO of staffing and payroll software company TempWorks, advises small-business owners to be "flexible and ask yourself what kind of staffing is truly needed." He suggests working with a staffing firm so you don't have to waste time creating job descriptions and building a candidate pool yourself.
"An outsourced hiring process is nothing to be squeamish about," Dourgarian says. "Remember – you still make the final call."
Outsourcing hiring work means you can focus on other things, such as taking care of end-of-the-year projects and your staff. Keep in mind that generosity can help motivate employees, too.
Dourgarian recommends rewarding employees, citing his own company's practice. "We've decided to get everyone tickets to see the new Star Wars movie on opening day. Though it doesn't happen until a week before Christmas, our staff is already buzzing with excitement. Some are even sharing the news on social media," he says. "They appreciate the fact that management 'gets' them."
Rewards for employees can reenergize your team and show your appreciation, too. Win-win.
For more ideas on ramping up productivity, check out our blog post "Home-Office Hacks for Higher Productivity." And if you like what you read here, share it with your employees and colleagues.