As part-owners of two coworking spaces in Richmond, we entertain frequent requests for advice. In this context, the owner of one of these new businesses asked us how best to prioritize his work-related activities. He was feeling a bit overwhelmed and needed some help. We suggested the following five steps.
1. Write down your priorities.
It may sound trite, but if you are going to prioritize successfully, you absolutely must establish a set of goals and write them down (we keep our goals in an Excel spreadsheet). With so many things competing for your time, you simply can't keep them in your head. To keep yourself on track, think about what can be accomplished in the next quarter. Make sure your own goals are specific. Broad generalities won’t work.
For each goal, have a series of actions that you believe, once completed, will ensure you reach the goal. How broad should an action be? We like actions to be small enough that they can be completed in an hour or two at most. As an example, "write sales presentation" may be overwhelming, because you don't have eight or more hours to devote to this task at any one time.
Instead, break tasks down into manageable actions. For instance, list "Write outline," "Develop presentation template," "Compile sales figures," etc. Beside each action, place a planned completion date and the name of the person responsible for completing that action. If you are a solopreneur, most of these actions will fall to you.
However, you may need to delegate some actions to your marketing support or CPA. Place the actions on your calendar as “to-dos” and check them off the spreadsheet as you complete them. Don't be afraid to review and revise your list as you learn more.
2. Focus your efforts.
Limit the number of things you're working on. Finish one thing before starting another. Even after you have written down your goals and actions, you can’t successfully work on 17 things at once. And multitasking? For most, it's a myth; multitasking just splits your attention. Instead, choose your top priorities and focus on them and them alone.
It's better to push three things across the finish line than to move 37 items a small portion of the way to completion. For instance, Polly likes to color-code her action items. She highlights in yellow three or four must-dos at a time and turns them orange when they are complete. This visual helps to keep her focused.
3. Prioritize tasks that build your core business and customer base.
You obviously need to bring in revenue, to have a viable business. That's why we often tell new business owners, "First, sell something. Prove that your concept, product and business model work." Sure, you're not going to get it right the first time. So, give your best effort and get feedback. Make changes and improvements. Improve each time. Get testimonials, develop case studies and ask for referrals in order to gain more customers.
Focus on improving your product offerings and customer service. When we opened our first coworking location two years ago, we had very few private offices. Most of the square footage was for open coworking; but we found that we had a long waiting list for the offices.
Our second location is just the opposite. Most of our square footage is private offices with much less open coworking space. More than half of the offices were rented months before the building opened. Test and learn. Those actions will give you your best chance for building a reliable cash flow.
4. Spend some time building for the future.
While you are focusing on those tasks that affect your business today, don't lose sight of the future. If you are successful and your business grows, you may need to hire employees. You may need additional marketing efforts, a larger space, more production equipment and/or capitalization. You may need to gain additional skills or knowledge.
Go back to your goals spreadsheet. Include some longer-range goals for your business. Make sure that you are preparing for long-term success. Along with quarterly goals and weekly actions, we like to have a one-year, three-year and a five or ten-year plan. While the one-year plan will be more precise than any plan with a longer horizon, it is important to have a vision for your future and an idea of what it will look like and require to get there.
5. Outsource ancillary tasks.
If you don't have enough time to complete everything on your “to-do” list, look for tasks that can be outsourced. These items may include administrative or accounting work. Perhaps others could perform some of your marketing efforts. Determine if the value of the extra time you gain more than offsets the cost of paying others to perform the tasks.
Remember, it might take far less time for a professional to perform these tasks, freeing you to pursue those actions that will move your business forward. Years ago, we hired an assistant to help with our social media and marketing efforts. The time we save goes to helping our clients. This is both a better and more profitable use of our time, and our assistant is better at performing those tasks.
Starting a successful new business means juggling a lot of competing tasks, but if you follow our advice, as our entrepreneur friend did, you should be able to more effectively choose where to put your time and efforts.