Can’t get it all done? Here are three ways to ensure you never stand behind
You’re inundated with endless demands on your time as a small business owner. While it may seem like a logical approach to address tasks in the order they are due, the time it takes to start a job should not be based solely on when to do it. Not only do you need to know when this is due, but also how long it will take. If you are not factoring in both, you are probably prioritizing urgent tasks over those most important to your company. Here are three ways of reassessing your goals and ensuring that you never fall back.
Split large projects into tiny tasks with staggered deadlines.
The most important work you need to do for your company is possibly found in a handful of extended tasks or periods of product development that span weeks, if not months. Yet, since it feels time-sensitive when the project doesn’t, the instinct will undoubtedly prioritize the job due two days from now over the major project deliverable due in three months. But what if it takes only five minutes to complete the task due in two days, when the project due in three months is already two weeks behind schedule and would need 40 hours of work a week to produce it anywhere near on time.
The annual report of the Project Management Institute reveals that companies lose 12 per cent of their investment in projects due to poor results each year. This is partially because project managers and staff are under the impression that they have plenty of time when not. Large tasks with far-reaching due dates appear to be less of a priority when you think of them as a single task with a single due date which is nowhere near. To prevent this, split them into bite-size tasks, and assign their own due date to each. The project may be due in three months, but if one of the sub-tasks needs to be done today, then the sub-task will be higher priority than tomorrow’s five-minute task.
Prioritize duties dependent on others.
Many of your most important tasks as business owner would include contacting your leadership team and employees. For example, which one would find the higher priority: meeting potential sales opportunities for sales targets that you are trying to hit next month or finishing the pitch deck for the angel investor conversations next week?
The pitch deck seems to be of higher priority given its importance, more imminent due date and your vital position in its creation, but you really want to do the outreach first. You have to presume tasks that rely on other people, such as discussions about sales, would take longer than tasks that you can handle yourself. If not, you will find yourself in a tough situation as a deadline approach because you have been waiting until the last moment to communicate with someone you need something to complete the task from.
When calculating how long tasks will take you, make sure to include waiting time for each round of contact to get what you need. The more senior or high profile you focus on the individuals, the more time you’ll also need to budget. Likewise, the less leverage you have over the people your job depends on the longer delays you also have to remember, like those sales prospects.
If you’re unsure how long a job is going to take, start early.
In company, particularly as a startup, you are constantly forced to take on tasks that you haven’t already done before. In the case of a choice between prioritizing a task you have completed before that is due soon and a task you have not done before that is due later, your first reaction would generally prioritize the task due earlier.
Yet my coaching discussions found that people are not inherently good at estimating how long they are going to take for work.
The smallest unforeseen obstacles or distractions can turn a day-and-a-half mission into one. While it is useful to apply a buffer of 10 to 15 percent to unknown period tasks, you will also want to prioritize these tasks higher so you have time to cover if your calculation is wildly wrong.
It seems easy to make decisions about what comes first but in reality it’s pretty complex. Using these three basic techniques can go a long way in making time for the highest priorities in your company, and ultimately help your business grow.