Small business editor Caitlin Sykes this week interviews a handful of small business owners about work hacks.

Steve Pirie works the kind of hours many other small business owners might envy.

At the beginning of this year he shunned traditional office hours in favour of structuring his working week around what he calls the 'five plus one' system, whereby he works five hours on a Monday, four on a Tuesday and so on until he'll work just one hour on a Friday. The 'plus one' is an extra hour he can add to any day if he wants.

"I used to be one of those reactive types," says Pirie, "connected 24 hours a day and checking emails at two in the morning. But with the birth of my second child I thought it was not the way forward; it was the trigger for me that 2016 had to be more about work life balance, and to become more productive, not busier."

Pirie says he noticed that a lot of successful CEOs tended to batch work in clusters, so his system is based on working in 'focus blocks'. He'll spend an hour on a Sunday night identifying clear outcomes he wants to achieve across four sectors — business, finance, health and personal — which become the focus of his week ahead.


So has it made him more productive?

"Definitely," he says. "A few of my friends are on to this system now as well and are saying the same thing. And it's nice to go to bed without your head filled with work; sleep is the best productivity drug."

Paul Conway is director of economics and research at the New Zealand Productivity Commission and says while the data shows the hours worked per capita in New Zealand are well above the OECD average, what we produce for every hour in the job is well below the OECD average.

Technology is radically changing the way business is done across large areas of the economy and is a key factor for boosting productivity growth, he says, but embracing technology has to be about more than just buying the latest kit.

"[It's] not just about computers; it's about new ways of doing business, structuring your business and organising yourself. It's as much about growing management capability as it is about embracing a more narrow definition of technology," says Conway.

Effectively utilising technology is among the 'work hacks' of small business owner Amber McIver of Verdo Parnell, including using social media to post up any gaps in her appointment book.

Other tips include setting — and sticking to — regular times to clear admin tasks; delegating responsibilities to staff in increments to reduce the owner's workload over time; and keeping accounting files up to date.

"But I think my biggest work hack is ultimately not to get caught up in drama and stuff that's emotionally draining," she says.

"You have to water your own garden, and not worry as much about what other people are doing."

Coming up in Small Business: 'Handmade' products are a growing consumer trend. How have some crafty folk built businesses around their handmade goods, and what markets are they developing for their offerings? If you've got a story to tell, drop me a note at