[IMGCAP(1)]Everything that’s being done manually in your office or when you work remotely needs to be given a good hard look. We are on the eve of 2012. At long last, software is actually starting to work!

The dirty secret few software industry providers want you to know is that adoption rates—and I’m talking about adoption rates on anything—are actually pretty dismal. I believe that’s the case because most business software has traditionally been quite complex, requiring a lot of adoption, training and wrangling on the part of the user. The result? We ultimately opt for a simple solution like Word, Excel and perhaps QuickBooks to manage a practice.

If you’ve written off software for years—and trust me, you’re not alone—now is actually a good time to take a look around. Here are a few key business processes that you can easily automate to help expand your available productive time:

Accounting: A good alternative to QuickBooks desktop is the new online version. With QuickBooks Online, you can log into your clients’ accounts directly without the need to send files back and forth.

If you’re up for considering alternatives to the QuickBooks universe altogether, you may want to start your search with upstart Xero, an online accounting software program.

Time and billing: Our friend Dustin Wheeler, CPA, of Wallace Neumann & Verville LLP, just wrote about a sweet time and billing hookup between my beloved Chrometa and our partner FreshBooks. Check out his easy and effortless workflow here.

Project management: We use two products for project management. First, Workflowy is a great, free app for keeping a bullet point list you can share with your colleagues. It’s essentially a white board on a web page, which is often all you need for good project management.

For more collaborative bells and whistles such as milestone tracking and file sharing, check out Basecamp, the most popular project management app for small business.

Email marketing: I’m a huge fan of sending out a regular, monthly email newsletter. I believe it’s the highest leverage marketing activity you can do. More leverage gives us more time.

If you’re new to email marketing, the easiest tools to get started with, in my experience, are Mailchimp and Constant Contact. Both make it easy to import your existing contacts and get started. I would highly recommend you put this on the top of your marketing to-do list.

Ditch (most) of your social media efforts

If you think this idea is controversial, you probably need to be reading this. Are you actually getting anything from your social media efforts, or do you just feel busy?

Don’t confuse effort with effectiveness. If you’re not tracing new clients back to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, maybe it’s time to dial back or outright axe the time you put into social media.

I speak from experience. At Chrometa, we do not use social media as a lead-generation tool because we found that didn’t work! I think social media is a great way to interact with clients and colleagues, and to engage in conversation. It’s fine as a virtual water cooler, but it’s a big time sink in terms of business development.

The bottom line

Remember when outsourcing was all the rage? Well, computers have come a long way, overtaking humans in a wide range of tasks. This is a very good thing for the enterprising professional. You can command a workforce much larger than your current one for the low monthly price of most software offerings.

Whether you consider outsourcing part of your plans for 2012, the bottom line is simple. Eliminating your interruptions, automating your busywork and reducing your social media burn should help you grow your total productive time available—and make your work more fun and fulfilling to boot.

Take baby steps. If you only have the bandwidth to adopt one of the three core time-saving ideas in this article, then go for one and tackle the others in succession. Make yourself a list of goals and stick to it!

Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and brett@chrometa.com.