How to Prioritize Work

One of the hardest things to do as a business owner or aspiring business owner is prioritizing your work.  If you’re anything like me, the ideas pour out faster than you can execute and you always end up staring at an endless task list.  It can be very frustrating.   From what I’ve seen, most people do one of two things: they either procrastinate and do nothing, spending too much time staring at their to-do list and writing up business plans,  or start attacking the to-do list feverishly without really thinking about what is most important.

I think the majority of aspiring entrepreneurs fall into the first category.  They just don’t know where to start.  As soon as they decide what to do and how to start, they read something or talk to someone and change their plans 180 degrees.  I know I was like this in the beginning.  Starting a business can be scary.  There is a feeling of comfort in “planning” that you don’t have when you’re “doing”.

I’ve also been in the other category.  For a long time I just had a master to-do list and would just start slashing off task after task without really knowing or understanding what task was most important.   You waste a lot of time when you work like this.

Which begs the question – how do you know what’s most important?

Whatever will make you the most money.  That’s what is most important.  Period.  If you think two things will make you the same amount of money, choose the one that will take the least amount of time and resources to complete.  If, after thinking about it for more than 10 minutes, you decide that both will take approximately the same amount of time, flip a coin and then get to work.

If you’re operating a for-profit business, that should always be your prioritizing mantra.  It frees your mind and allows you to get to work quickly on the most important tasks.

Efficiency improvements that cut costs and save time are nice, but those only impact your bottom line if you have cash flow.  To get cash flow you need revenue.

Perfect example is our e-commerce platform.  Despite our limited experience in projects of this scale, we were able to go from planning in June 2007 to a launch in September 2007.  How?  Because we focused on improving the user experience more than our experience.  Time was spent on SEO features to drive traffic,  and upsells to convert it, ahead of flashy design or a fancy admin section.  Instead of the admin section, I gave the guys a 1 hour crash course in phpMyAdmin so they could navigate the database.  Not ideal, but they learned a little more about the structure of the site and saved me a few weeks of programming.

And it worked – revenue jumped as soon as we launched it.  Had we held the project to get everything we wanted in it, we would have cost ourselves quite a bit.  Since then we’ve gone back and done things like the box size system and an improved design, but only after we exhausted more revenue generating improvements like the Daily Special on the front end.

Now I’m faced with building version 2.0 in 2009, and I will approach it in much the same way. We need a much improved user experience to help separate us from the competition.  We also want to apply all of the programming and design knowledge we’ve learned over the past few years into developing a more scalable solution.  We want this to be the foundation that takes our company from good to great.   Eventually this version will also include a much more feature-filled admin section, but only after the front-end is released and is stable.  A month or two of time savings could result in tens of thousands of dollars in our pockets during Detailed Image’s busy season in the spring.  It’s only logical to do it this way.

In the grander scheme of things, this flips the process for starting a new business on its head.  In my opinion, you shouldn’t spend months writing a business plan unless you’re looking for angel/venture backing.  It’s a waste of time.  You have no idea how the market will react to your business.  Do the absolute minimum amount of work to get yourself in the position to start making money.  Then do the tasks that you think will bring in the most revenue the fastest.  You’ll quickly learn what does and doesn’t work, and you’ll adjust accordingly whether you’re succeeding or failing.   Either way, you’ll still be light years ahead of someone who is still trying to figure out what to do.

3 comments on How to Prioritize Work

  1. Oke says:

    I got a question for you. I am having a problem with this myself and do a shitty job on getting back on track. How do you prioritize your work/hobby/activities on the side when none of the task deal with making money?

  2. Leigh says:

    I find myself very much in the first group – the procrastinators. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, or that I don’t want to work on them; it’s that I have so many ideas that it is very difficult to know where to begin. I own 6 or 7 domain names now, all of which I have ideas for, but not one of them is up and running because I’m stalled in figuring out what to do first.

  3. […] Make of It (one of my favorite blog designs, by the way) left a really interesting comment on my last post about prioritizing work: I got a question for you. I am having a problem with this myself and do a shitty job on getting […]

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