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Welcome to the third installment in our Solo-E Expert Q&A series. Every few weeks we offer our Subscribers and Facebook Fans the opportunity to pose a question to our Experts via Facebook. The combined wisdom of our Experts is then posted here on the Solo-E blog.
Clint J. Brenner of Phoenix, Arizona, had a great question about Time Management, Setting Priorities, And Staying Focused. Clint asks:
“Prioritizing to do lists for a new company is something I haven’t had to do for 14 years. There’s so much to do, and so many distractions, it’s difficult to stay focused on one task at a time. Suggestions?”
Our Solo-E Certified Experts replied:
The biggest challenge many people face when it comes to prioritizing, is doing the prioritizing in the first place. If you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere, I always say the fastest way to move forward is to stop. This may seem counter-intuitive if you already feel behind but it really does work. Take time to stop and assess the situation and see what’s going on. If you are having trouble prioritizing, list out all your tasks and sort them by importance. Importance for most business owners equals revenue generating activities.
Create 3 columns and label them important, necessary, and necessary but not urgent. Things in the important column are all the things that are revenue generating activities, client work for example. Necessary are all the things that lead up to revenue generating activities, like marketing. Necessary but not urgent are things you need to do to run a business but can be put off, usually administrative things. Once you have your daily activities sorted, focus on doing the important first then move on the necessary, then the necessary but not urgent. You may find that you can delegate or outsource some tasks once you have a clear picture of what they are.
Without stopping to address the issue many people default to the band-aid approach which is simply dealing the most urgent issue instead of taking care of the root problem. This leaves them in a constant state of playing catch up and overwhelm. This is not a good long-term solution.
A great time management tool is the “How to Organize & Manage Your Time – A One Year Planning and Action Guide”. This guide provides a framework for getting things done in all areas of your life. Learn more at www.coachandmentor.net/how-to.
This is the perfect situation for a Virtual Assistant especially one who is good with project management. The first step is hiring a VA, if you don’t already have one. Then you have a brainstorming session with your VA to “hash” out the priorities AND what can be delegated to a VA or others you may have on staff or need to hire. When the to-do list is really long with many distractions on top of it, prioritizing it is only one part. The second part is determining what you absolutely must do yourself and what can be delegated to a VA or other people. If your VA is also a project manager, they can oversee everyone, including you, to be sure everything gets done, creating an accountability partnership as well. With a VA/VA team you can accomplish much more and actually do less of it yourself.
Prioritize your To Do list. To Do lists are great – they help you stay focused. But only if you’re focusing on the RIGHT things. So go through that big list that you’ve got and ask yourself, “If I do this, how will it directly relate to my bottom line?” If it doesn’t, then move it to the bottom of the list, or cross it off altogether. You only want to focus on those things that are going to relate directly to your bottom line … anything else you either delegate, cross it off, or do it when you’ve got nothing better to do.
Founder of Finding Time
Hi Clint -
It sounds like you have taken on a big challenge, with lots of tasks to juggle – and many wonderful possibilities! And you are absolutely right to focus on setting priorities (and following through on them) at this stage. Of course, priority-setting is always a key to success. But it’s especially crucial when you have so much on your to do list that you can’t possibly get it all done in the time available.
I am assuming that you have a business plan that outlines your over-arching, long-term goals. With your business plan providing the broad overview of what needs to be done, you can then work backwards, setting priorities and creating increasingly specific goals and benchmarks. I suggest breaking things down into monthly, weekly, and then daily lists of tasks, and then prioritizing those lists according to each task’s impact on your overall plan.
From what you say, it sounds like it’s really not priority-setting that’s the challenge. More it’s around staying focused and following through on the many tasks that need to be done. This is where setting and maintaining time boundaries becomes fundamentally important.
Time boundaries create a ‘space’ where you can focus your energies and move ahead on accomplishing your goals. They may take the form of ‘external boundaries’ like using a timer to make sure you stay on task and keep moving. Or they may be internal boundaries that you set. These include things like the decision to not listen to your inner critic or your conscious choice to not let the next task on your list distract you from what you’re doing NOW!
Both kinds of boundaries help you maintain your focus so that you can get from Point A to Point B without detouring to Points C, D and E along the way! Implementing time boundaries will allow you to maintain the priorities that you set, stay on track, accomplish your goals, AND take care of yourself. Think of them as like a fence, defining and containing the moment you are in. You’ll be amazed at how much this can help.
Here are 3 more tips and action steps for using time boundaries to move ahead on your priorities, stay focused, and get things done:
- Tip: Make your to-do list your servant, not your master.
Action Step: Refuse to feel guilty about what you didn’t accomplish. This wastes your energy and sabotages your efforts. Focus instead on how each completed task on your daily to-do list moves you toward your priorities. This positive perspective energizes you and enhances your productivity.
- Tip: To improve your planning power and focus, distinguish planning from worrying, and then create an internal boundary, saying “No” to the energy-draining worries that you discover.
Action Step: Starting a new business is a huge step and there is so much to do and think about that it’s easy to fall into the “Worry Trap.” The best way to weed out worrying and let it go is to first SEE it. So, ask yourself … Do I:
- Decide and implement – or ruminate on minor details?
- Plan for possible consequences – or sweat the ‘What if’s'?
- Accept my best effort – or punish myself if I fall short?
- Tip: Say “Yes” to getting started. Even if you know you can’t finish a high priority task in the time you have available, don’t let that stop you. No start is too small – and the first step is often the one that’s the most difficult to take.
Action Step: Breakng tasks down into steps is vital. The smaller the increment the likelier it is that you’ll take action. And with each step taken you give yourself an energizing sense of accomplishment, as well as moving closer to your goal. So, as you plan, keep in mind what size time chunks you can generally set aside. That’s the time boundary to establish for each step. (And be prepared to ‘chunk’ it down even further if you need to, to keep things moving forward!)
I hope that these tips are helpful and wish you all the best in your exciting, new enterprise!
And if you’d like, you can learn more about my unique, Heart-Based Time Management™ System and begin your transformational journey by signing up for my Finding Time Success Kit at www.thetimeschool.com/template. The kit includes my Finding Time Boundary Template, along with my monthly, award-winning Finding Time E-zine and my weekly Finding Time Tips. Follow your heart-based path to find time for what matters most.
What do you think of our Expert’s advice? Anything you’d like to add that can help Clint? Please add your comments below!
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Terri Z is
The Solo-CEO: a self-employed internet marketing consultant to solo entrepreneurs, freelance writer, and grassroots promoter of the
solo entrepreneur lifestyle. She runs www.Solo-E.com, the resource website for solo entrepreneurs which attracts thousands of visitors monthly from over 100 countries on six continents.
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