Prioritization & Entrepreneurship
As a founder or entrepreneur, you are overworked and overloaded. 😵 Competing priorities and long to-dos.📋 It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the work required — a feeling that reduces productivity and leads to procrastination. As an entrepreneur starting out, it is imperative that you are utilizing time to its fullest. Time is money. 💰
How do you focus on what is important? 🎯
Prioritization is equal parts mindset, habit, and skill that you can learn to cultivate over time. Before looking into the prioritization process, make sure to have a clear sense of your long term goals.
Get your long-term goals in order
Big-picture thinking is critical in prioritizing effectively. Otherwise you risk filling your day with tasks that make you busy but have no impact on your goals. Equally do not get stuck in the process of prioritization itself. Otherwise you are doing a non critical activity that does not contribute to your success.
Several tools can help you to articulate your vision into actionable priorities. Work on SMART goals to define specific and realistic outcomes (1). A canvas like the 5 Bold Steps Vision (2) can be helpful in visualizing the major steps in achieving your vision. You can also leverage our Columbus Framework.
Review and classify your to-do
As a founder, you are looking at a long (long) list of tasks. The following tools can help you review and organize them.
The most recommended tool you can find in publications around prioritization is the Eisenhower Matrix. This matrix is composed of 2 dimensions: Urgency and Importance. It defines 4 quadrants:
Urgent & Important: these are the tasks to be completed immediately
Not Urgent & Important: these tasks can be scheduled for a later date
Urgent & Unimportant: these tasks should be delegated
Not Urgent & Unimportant: you can normally delete these tasks (if it sounds too difficult, park them)
Importance | Urgency — Eisenhower Matrix
How to best define urgency? Outside of work delivered to a customer with an associated time limit, most other operational tasks have deadlines that are self-imposed so use your best judgement to see if they are realistic.
When looking at delegation, Urgency and Importance might not be the only factors for you to consider. There might be tasks associated with confidential information that should not be handled by another team member.
While the Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool, it does not fully capture all elements that define tasks. Consequently consider completing this analysis with an Effort | Impact matrix. Per its name, this matrix has 2 dimensions: Effort and Impact; and defines 4 quadrants:
Effort | Impact matrix
High Impact & High Effort: these are major projects providing long term returns but that are more complex to execute.
High Impact & Low Effort: these are quick wins giving you the best return based on your effort.
Low Impact & Low Effort: these are fill-ins. They don’t require a lot of effort but neither do they offer a lot of benefits.
Low Impact & High Effort: these are thankless tasks or time wasters. These tasks are should be avoided.
Fill-ins can generate a sense of accomplishment to propel you throughout the day. But do not fall in the trap of doing mostly these otherwise you will not achieve meaningful results.
While these 2 tools are great to sort and classify tasks based on attributes, they lack a critical dimension: the human factor. Consequently we recommend to also map your tasks using the following matrix: Energy & Motivation.
Motivation | Energy matrix
It can help you identify the work you enjoy doing and the energy depleting tasks. Armed with this information, you should then review the above two matrices.
Execute on your newly found priorities
Equipped with the filter of your long term goals and the tasks segmentation from the above matrices, you can now identify your ‘Most Important Tasks’ - MIT (3). What is a ‘Most Important Task’? It is a critical task that will create the most significant results. You should review your list of two or three MITs daily or weekly. Then structure your time to ensure that you get them done first, before anything else.
Be mindful and realistic on what you can accomplish. In general, we tend to overestimate how much you can get done during a day and underestimate how long each task will take. It can be valuable to frequently review and adjust your goals based on what you have achieved.
Finally, be indistractable. We are surrounded with digital tools that help us achieve more but that are a constant flow of distractions: emails, Slack, LinkedIn, Youtube… just to name a few. Make sure to schedule a specific time of your day for these. A great book to hone this skill is Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal.
Take control over your to-do list and achieve great results!
If you have read this far, you are probably challenged by how to prioritize your tasks to be as efficient as possible. Entrepreneurs can benefit from an Accountability Partner, sharing their priorities and milestones towards accomplishing them.
You can also get our Prioritization Board on Miro to help you focus.