8 MSP Productivity Tips For Efficiently Achieving More [Industry Survey]

In 1918, steel magnate Charles R. Schwab was frustrated with his staff’s productivity.

Looking for ways to increase efficiency, he asked publicity expert and founder of modern public relations Ivy Lee for help.  Famously, Charles Schwab paid Ivy Lee $25,000 (worth $424,485 in 2020) for his productivity advice and said it was the most profitable advice he had ever received.

Lee’s advice is credited as one of the main contributing factors as to how Charles Schwab was able to grow Bethlehem Steel Company to the second-largest steel manufacturer in the U.S., making him one of the wealthiest people in the world.

I’ll get to what Ivy Lee told Charles Schwab in just a minute, but first I want you to grasp just how much productivity can impact your success. To help you do that, another piece of the Charles Schwab story is that Ivy Lee didn’t name his fee. He told Charles to use his advice for a few weeks or months and pay him what he thought it was worth. In today’s terms, that means Lee was paid the equivalent of nearly half a million dollars for advice that only took him about 15 minutes to deliver.

Now you can understand why we felt productivity was such an important concept that we made it the topic for our recent Managed Service Provider (MSP) survey. We asked MSPs how productive they felt they were on a day-to-day basis. Only 10% described themselves as “extremely productive,” leaving 90% with the feeling they could do better and be more productive. 60% felt they had “good days but there were also off days,” 17.5% said occasionally they “got their act together, but then the world blows things up” and 12.5% said they were STRUGGLING.

Why Improving Productivity Matters

Before we get into MSPs self-defined biggest time-sucks and the best tools, tips, and techniques to improve productivity, it’s important to examine WHY it’s important for you to become more productive.

To clarify, being more productive is not about putting more on your plate. It’s about allowing you to do more with less of your working time. This allows you to do other things you enjoy or want to do by speeding up the stuff that you have to do.  

Putting a productivity system in place will allow you to achieve better results in the time you have. For instance, it can increase your earning potential by allowing you to earn more per hour. Because you’ll be more efficient and in control, you’ll feel less stress throughout your day. Stress that, otherwise, can chip away at your physical and mental health and devastate your peace of mind. Plus, improving your productivity puts you in the driver seat, allowing you to make better decisions and handle the moments when you’re not in control of a situation. The bottom line is the more productive you are, the better you handle your time, the more you’ll be able to manage your entire life and achieve the things you desire the most.

What Are MSP’s Biggest Time-Sucks?

Evaluating where your time goes and how it’s wasted is a good place to start. This will help you to eliminate your biggest time sucks by putting processes in place to limit or control them.

Email tops the list as the biggest time-suck with 57.5% of MSPs weighing in that this was a big timewaster. 50% said unexpected issues cropping up in the business cause a roadblock to productivity. Employees, clients, and ‘your own ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)’ tied as the third most popular distraction with 32.5% saying this caused problems with productivity. Social media also made the list with Facebook (10%), Twitter (2.5%), Instagram (2.5%), LinkedIn (2.5%) and YouTube (7.5%) called out as distractors. Netflix and other entertainment is an issue for 7.5%.

What Tools Do MSPs Use To Manage Their Time?

We asked MSPs to identify the tools they used to manage their time. A to-do list will keep you moving forward. A checklist can help you track your progress and remind you of what you need to do. And calendars will keep you on schedule. The majority (62.5%) use the Outlook Calendar or iCalendar while 10% use a paper calendar.

Phone applications are used by 10%. These included applications such as Google Calendar, Google Keep (a note-taking app that lets you add notes, lists, photos, and audio), and Success Wizard (a life coach and goal-setting app).

Hiring an assistant is used by 2.5% and 7.5% use a time tracking software. ConnectWise was the #1 software mentioned. ConnectWise is designed for technology providers and enables every team member across your organization to stay connected. ConnectWise tracks your marketing campaigns and will show you what services are bringing in profit as well as the underperforming areas and automates scheduling and proposals. It also provides critical reports and KPIs. Asana was also mentioned. Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. 7.5% of MSPs said they don’t manage their time.

What are MSPs’ best productivity tips?

1. Daily prioritization. When we asked MSPs what their top time management and productivity tip is, it was not surprising to find the #1 answer given again and again tied to Ivy Lee’s advice given way back in 1918 which is: Every evening before finishing work, write down three to five things you plan to get done the next day. Rank them from highest to lowest priority. In the morning, work on the highest priority task. Only move on to your number two priority when you’ve completed your number one priority. Repeat.

2. The Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique gets its name from a tomato-shaped timer that its founder Francesco Cirillo used to combat his procrastination. To use the Pomodoro Technique, decide on a task you want to focus on that will take you at least 25 minutes to do. Start a timer for 25 minutes and start working on the task. If you get distracted don’t change what you’re doing just gently come back to the task at hand. If your distraction pulls you away from your task, cancel the Pomodoro, and reset your timer to zero. When the timer ends, take a five-minute break to stretch, get a drink of water, and so on before starting your next Pomodoro. Over time this technique will condition you to focus exclusively on the task at hand and will increase your productivity and discipline.

3. Time Blocking. Time blocking is a technique where you schedule how you’ll spend every minute of every day. Each task you need to complete is scheduled on your calendar, making sure you have the bandwidth for every to-do list item.

4. Limit Interruptions. Social media, unscheduled meetings, and phone calls, and emails are a few of the biggest interruptions MSPs encounter.  Turn off notifications on your phone and computer so curiosity doesn’t get the better of you. Limit the number of times when you check your email. For example, only check it twice a day for 20 minutes and never check it first thing in the morning where it might derail you from getting to your most important task.  Use blockers such as Cold Turkey that allow you to block certain websites and apps when you need to focus and buckle down on a task. “Close the door” and “work when no one is around” were also among the suggested techniques MSPs used to limit interruptions.

5. Automate. Using automation tools such as Infusionsoft will free up your time by eliminating you from doing things manually. There are also social media management tools such as Hootsuite that will help you schedule your social media in advance. This way you can just block out a short segment of time to load your posts for the week or month and have set times to respond.

6. To-Do Lists. To-do lists can be a lifesaver, keep you focused and reduce stress. To make your to-do list effective and prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed, limit your list for each day to between three to five tasks.

7. Break tasks into small chunks. When you have a big, hard task at hand, it’s easy to procrastinate due to the sheer size of it. Break projects down into small, manageable bite-sized chunks. This will help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and encourage you to get started and keep moving.

8. Say no. Clients and employees ranked near the top of the list of what keeps MSPs from being productive. While it is understandable that you don’t want to disappoint a client or an employee, it is not feasible for you to continually stop what you are doing every time there is a request. Train your clients, employees, and vendors on your procedure for handling requests and to expect a delayed response. For example, you could set a specific time each week that is dedicated to speaking with clients and let them know you only answer emails once a day. Employees can be trained to schedule time with you or bring up issues during a scheduled weekly meeting.

Time is one of your most valuable resources. The more you are aware of how you are spending it and the more consistently you track it, the more productive and successful you’ll become. Avoid the biggest time wasters that kill your productivity and follow your fellow MSPs’ tips to hit your targets. When you do, you’ll achieve the things you desire most. You might even find it to be among the most valuable and profitable advice you receive all year.

Verne Harnish is the Founder and CEO of Scaling Up, a global executive education and coaching company with over 200 partners on six continents. He is also the founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), with over 16,000 members worldwide, and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program held at MIT, a program in which he still teaches today.



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