How to Prioritize All the Stuff You Have to Do - Christine Kane

When you start your business, you’ll eventually get overwhelmed by all there is to do. You’ll wonder how entrepreneurs get it all done. You’ll wonder if something is wrong with you.

If you’re jumping from a job to entrepreneurship? Well, then the overwhelm might be multiplied, especially if you had a job that allowed you to stay strictly in your skillset and “let marketing handle marketing, let HR handle HR” etc, etc.

Then you begin a business.

Good-bye departments. Hello you.

And hello to a boatload of stuff you CAN do… which — you will soon discover — is very different from the stuff you SHOULD do.

How do you determine the difference?

Well, that’s THE question. And the answer requires that you learn how to think about your business, and not just react to the unlimited options for activity.

Here’s a way to organize your ideas and to-do’s so you can prioritize all you have to do each day.

The types of activities you do each day can be divided into four areas:

1. Income generation

2. Deliverables

3. Business Development

4. Total Wastes of Time

1. Income Generation

If you’re in start up, you’ll need to spend the bulk of your time each day in this area. I recommend that these are the tasks you tackle first, because often, these are the tasks you will most resist doing.

This can be anything from writing warm letters, creating referral systems, from networking to sales calls. HINT: This is often the stuff you avoid like the plague because it’s much more fun to sit around and play with logos.

The best way to discover your primary income generators is to ask yourself this question:

How did you get the clients you currently have?

Then, write down your answer… and do more of that. That is your primary income generator activity. Work on making it into a system or a habit.

 2. Deliverables

Deliverables are the services you offer. This is the time you spend with the clients you already have. The people who have already paid you to do what you do for them.

If you sell your services in high-value packages (not hours for dollars), then your clients pay in advance – and you deliver the service. Deliverables do not generate the income, but they do serve the clients.

Typically, entrepreneurs don’t have a hard time following through on deliverables because we want to show up for the people who have appointments and are expecting us to deliver.

It’s most effective to batch your deliverables on certain days of the week so that you can give your full focus to this activity. That way you can batch at least one day a week to Business Development.

 3. Business Development

As you make money in your business, you’ll continually have to focus on the future growth of your business. Otherwise, you will have strictly a transactional business with no space to expand into new services, offers, and branding.

So, the time you spend building into future business is key. But it is NOT the #1 priority. This is where many business owners get confused.

They confuse their love of bright shiny objects (new websites, logos, rebrands, product ideas) with an actual need. They end up making their task list way too complex. This is not necessary, especially when your business is in its first years of growth.

4. Total wastes of time

This is where many entrepreneurs lose hours of time. This tends to happen when they get scared of how much other stuff there is to do and how little of it is getting done.

This also tends to happen if they don’t know how to write a task list. See, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, your brain likes a good dopamine hit. This means your brain likes the activity of checking items off a list.

The worst thing you can do is set up your weekly priorities with no tasks. For instance, when you simply “know” that you have to “sell something.”

If you write your priorities list in this nebulous way, you will find yourself doing ANYTHING in order to feel like you’ve accomplished SOMETHING. And if your office is in your home, that will mean you spend way too much of your office hours time cleaning your oven, emptying the dishwasher, sorting out files, and picking out the very best letterpress holiday card to send out this year. Doing these things doesn’t mean you are distracted. It just means you are seeking out a dopamine hit. You want to get things done. Start breaking down your tasks lists into actual items you can check off.

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What is your biggest challenge with getting stuff done? And where have you most improved in your productivity this year?

10 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Susan

    OMG, you totally called me out with your comment on #3 – Biz Development. In my past 2 corporate jobs I was focused on new business creation…and most of my corporate friends ask me questions around what I’ve done surrounding business plan. It’s a great question…but it’s not the only thing I should be doing. Thank you for opening my eyes to putting it in its proper place.

  • Grace

    Great reminder, Christine! My challenge with getting stuff done is staying focused on a task to see it through to completion in a timely manner. I do complete tasks, but I’m prone to wander off-task during the journey to completion.

    When I started with Uplevel, I spent a lot of time out on Facebook. Now, I peek in every now and then. I felt really guilty about this at first, because I know I need the community, and I was intentional about contributing. But, I wasn’t getting as much done as I should have been, so I had to stop it. Turning off notifications helped big time!

    One of my biggest breakthroughs this year has been realizing that the categories you outlined will daily, weekly, and monthly shift in priority and time spent, according to (1) what I’m working to accomplish in and with my business, and (2) what I need to tackle to move forward.

    This may seem obvious to some, but I didn’t realize that at first. I thought my planning and task list each week needed to follow that order all the time. So, I gave myself permission to move the blocks around as I needed to.

    I mean, I’m just geting started, and my business is Internet-based, so prioritizing #1 didn’t make sense. Right now, pretty much all of my time is spent in #2 and #3. I can’t get clients until I have something to sell. And, I’ve nothing to sell until I build it.

    I do LOVE tasks list now, though. I never used them before…now, I can’t imagine trying to get any work done without them!

  • Joanne Newell

    This article is spot on, Christine. I can very easily fall into ‘bright shiny object’ syndrome if I don’t write a focused schedule every night, which serves me the next day.

    I read somewhere recently that most people are at their most productive for two hours in the morning, about 1½ hours after they wake up, so in my schedule I include the most income-producing activities in that ‘time zone’. It really seems to help, and I love getting that dopamine hit by running an orange highlighter through my completed list items!

  • K.C. Gott

    I spend way too much time in #4 and I freak out when I realize how overwhelmed I am because I didn’t prioritize well. I even purchased “Getting Things Done” and never finished reading it, much less implementing any of the system. I also spend a ton of time in #1 and #2 but not enough time in #3. Here’s where I really am tho – plenty busy and not breaking even. If I didn’t have my teaching gig, my business would never support me and I’m at my 2 year anniversary. I’m really tired and spending more time than I want doing things I don’t like. This sends me straight to CareerBuilder so I can look for a job (or on a binge of the next season of Vikings on Hulu). I don’t mean to keep ending up here – I take steps to get it all in order and it feels good for a while and then, kapow, I look up and here I am again. Anyway, this feels like I’m ranting and dumping – which I am a little bit – but it’s also a question – what am I missing? I have plenty of support – coaches, accountability buddy, tools galore, people who totally support me – is something about this struggle subconsciously attractive for me? I wish I knew. I do think it’s structure and awareness. I think I may have to have a several-times-daily check-in structure to keep myself on track and help me hold the boundaries of my time and attention. Is that too much? Does anyone else do this?

  • Nancy Darling

    In my real estate business the activities in these categories are clear, however as I am also growing my business as an artist I would add one more: creating inventory.
    My biggest challenge is working it all in, so I am concentrating on creating a planning habit and scheduling what needs to be done to make progress in art business and to make supporting income in real estate biz.

    • Christine Kane

      Nancy – I would call “Creating Inventory” Income Generation. Because anything you create is going to bring in money. So, when I was a songwriter, any time I was writing a song, that was income generation because I was the only one who could do it – and my songs were what sold me and made me money. And yes, it truly can be a challenge to move from one business to another… you really do need to have strong habits!

  • Gloria

    My biggest challenge in getting stuff done is caused by trying to carry everything in my head and a lack of a system that honors my own unique work habits. My biggest improvement in productivity has come from recognizing that and working with it. One small thing that has made a HUGE difference for me has been noticing at what time of day my energy starts to drag. It’s been fascinating to discover that it is pretty much the same time each day. Now, instead of pushing through that time and struggling to be productive I’ve scheduled a 30 minute mediation/nap at that time each day. I call it a medi-nap. Best thing I have ever done.

    • Christine Kane

      Great idea, Gloria! It’s called The Grey Zone when you’re not really working but not really resting – which is what happens when you don’t honor your body’s need to just chill out and stop working already. I love the medi-nap!

  • Miranda

    My biggest challenge is the space between comfortable and uncomfortable, between doing what I know how to do and growing.
    But I also know how to get out of that: I just launch something, imperfectly. And improve as I go. And it goes either two ways: it fails (and I learn) or it’s really great and becomes effortless and I wonder why I was waiting so long to do this 🙂

    • Christine Kane

      Miranda – EXACTLY! It’s all about imperfect action. Make the decision and then just do it badly!