(As published in the Sunday Star Times, Sunday August 3: www.stuff.co.nz/business/small-business/10519569/Does-your-brand-say-what-it-means)
Yesterday I sat down at my desk and got straight to work. Coffee in hand, I answered loads of emails from clients, followed up on website enquiries and returned phone calls. I checked bank accounts and made some payments, I updated my social media pages and I read the latest business news online. I set up three meetings and introduced a couple of clients to people they could work with, before I polished off a bit of filing and tidied up my desk, which had got a bit unruly in recent very busy weeks.
Sounds like a productive morning, right? Me, getting down to the business of business? Not really. Sure, I was busy. I was working. It took me a while. But it was actually a bit of a waste of my time. Yes, admin and housekeeping are important for a business, but they’re not what makes your business. Admin and housekeeping are not business changing.
So many people get caught up in crossing off their to-do list, one by one, that they end up having a busy day that’s not necessarily effective and certainly doesn’t add to the bottom line or future revenue of their company. I’m not bagging to-do lists – I think they’re great in that they keep you focused and on track as well as accountable – but they need to be used the right way.
When you own or run a business, you need to do what matters. Every day. Your task list should be filled with items that will make a meaningful impact on your business. In fact, your to-do list doesn’t need to be long – if you only have two or three items on it but they’re substantial ones that will impact on your business, you’re on the right track.
Look at your list. What are the small inconsequential items that won’t take you very long to complete? It’s human instinct to attack these ones first, so that you have a few ticks on the board and feel productive – but don’t. Ignore them. Move down the list. What’s the grunty item? The one that will take some brain power and may even take a few days to complete. It’s probably the task you’ve been putting off because of its complexity and the effort required to fulfil it. That’s the one you should be getting stuck into first thing. It might be working on your business plan, analysing your current processes and how you can add value at every link in the chain or focusing on the changes you need to implement to get your business flying through the next year.
Be ruthless about prioritising your tasks. Sitting down at your desk in the morning and starting with the important things is perhaps one of the most powerful methods of successful people. Do the more tricky, time-consuming stuff when you’re focused and energetic, before the day wears you down and distracts you with its problems and issues. Don’t be put off by the size of it – just get started. How do you eat an elephant? A spoonful at a time.
Some of the best business owners and managers I know have their phone and email turned off for the first hour of the morning, to allow them to concentrate solely on the task at hand, without distractions. (Obviously the admin tasks need to be completed too, but leave them till later in the day – or delegate them out, where possible.)
Attacking the hardest task first thing also has other benefits. It sets your focus, it gets you in the game, it helps you reframe and think big picture for the rest of the day. It’s also a good feeling to start your day off knowing you’ve done something that will have a good impact on the business, rather than doing something for busyness. Try it.