Oct 11

As an entrepreneur the next thing you must do is…

Startups have a million diverse things to do to keep their vision moving forward. One minute they're paying bills, next minute they're buying technology, then they're on the phone selling, then operations, finance, writing a blog, Twittering, Facebooking, cleaning the "office" so on and so on. So it's no wonder there's a phrase out there "right action, right now", which simply means right now there is always one thing that's the highest priority. Ergo it needs to be done right now.

I often get a client-partner on the phone in a tizzy because they have a million things that need to be done and, according to them, they all have to be done right now, apparently simultaneously. I always find this a little amusing because unless they also exist in a parallel universe they're going to be disappointed. And so at some point they come to the realization that they're not Captain Kirk and start to doubt themsleves and their abailit to bring their dream to life. Every entrepreneur goes through this at some point.

If you find yourself there from time to time stop beating yourself up. If you have a brain you can do this, you just need the tools to help you.

I learned this about 15 years ago during my first startup experience. I had become COO with many hats and feeling that I wasn't doing a very good job when wearing any of them. I was working 12 to 16 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week. I had grown so used to being a pinball bouncing from one thing to another that it didn't occur to me that this was something that needed to be addressed. Then I read a short story about Charles Schwab and how he paid $25,000 for an idea which made him the best known steel man in the world. (That's a decent sum today, right, but that was back in the early 1900s!)

When Charles asked how to get more done with his time, the idea his consultant gave him was this: "Write down the most important tasks you have to do tomorrow and number them in the order of their importance. When you arrive in the morning, begin at once on number 1 and stay on it until it is completed. Recheck your priorities; then begin with number 2. If any task takes all day, never mind. Stick with it as long as it is the most important one. If you don't finish them all, you probably couldn't do so with any other method, and without some system you would probably not even decide which one was the most important. Make this a habit every working day. When it works for you teach it to others. Try it as long as you like. Then send me a check for what you think it is worth." Several weeks later Charles sent the check.

I took this theme and gave it a 20th century spin. What I did was start with an electronic list of things that needed to be done, e.g., call prospects, test software, arrange meetings, etc. I then broke the document into 2 parts; part 1 is "Things I must do today: (put date here)"; part 2 is "Backlog" of things to do some time in the future. Part 1 never exceeds on page, part 2 always starts on the second page, and can grow to many pages.

I then print out page 1, i.e., "Things I need to do today: (date)". During the day I cross out the things I've done and make comments on the sheet of new things that pop up. At the end of every day or every other day, I edit the electronic document. I start by removing the things I've completed. I then add the new things that popped up and prioritize them on page 1. Page 1 becomes a mix of new things that came up and things from the backlog. I then print page 1 again ready for the next day.

The benefits of doing this are tremendous. For example, when I get to my desk in the morning I hit the ground running, i.e., I never have to waste time trying to decide what I should be working on. I rarely, if ever, wake up in the middle of the night anymore because I forgot something. I don't spend any where near as much time at the office as I used to, but I am much, much more effective. And now with kids I can easily find some time for them.

If you're in a startup, I urge you to try this out for 28 days (that's how long it takes to create a habit.)

Tip regarding priorities:
Sometimes, you get so subjective, so lost in the quagmire of daily things you lose connection with what is truly a priority. Third-party enter stage left. Find someone you can sit down with and run through your lists. In just a few minutes you'll find the priorities come leaping out at you. My wife is great for this activity.


"This article may not be reproduced in whole or part without including the name of the author (James Naylor) and an acknowledgement of the fact the article was originally published in Shoestring Advice for Technology Startups (http://www.KENOVATech.com/blog). Any other use of this material is unauthorized and is a violation of law."

One Comment

  1. Enrique says:

    Bless you for spending some time to explain the terminlogy to the rookies!

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