What to Prioritise In Your Business – Put First Things First
“Putting first things first means organising and executing around your most important priorities. It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.” DR. STEPHEN R. COVEY
In the first two blogs of the Unicorns and Fairy Floss series, we looked at creating your compelling vision of your future, which you can access here. The second one looked at how to make your vision come to life through brainstorming your actions, and you can find that one here.
By now, you’ll no doubt have a shopping list of all the possible things that you could do to achieve your vision… Problem is, a wall full of PostIt Notes can easily get into overwhelm when you already have plenty on the “just get through the day” list. Trying to work out what to action first is unlikely to evoke a vision of a joyful life filled with unicorns and fairy floss (ie. that is having it all). So, what we really want is a way to tackle the list for the best effect. You could spend lots of time and energy conducting a full and in-depth analysis, yet as small business owners, we need to make smart decisions quickly to get a return on the time and energy already spent.
We need to prioritise!
I have three mantras:
- Only do things that will gain a return on your time and energy investment (money being one of those energetic resources).
- Aim for the “low hanging fruit” (doing what is easy and going to give us a result quickly), and for my final cliché,
- Get the “biggest bang for the buck;” (doing the thing that results in the most significant impact).
I have a project management mindset, so I do tend to think in a “waterfall” or sequential fashion. What does that mean? I guess it means ensuring that we do the first things first; for example, there is no point getting your roof ready to put on your new house before you’ve got the walls up (and the foundation laid). Whatever you do, make sure that at the end of this, you have an action plan that you can share with your team, and that they and most importantly, YOU can be held accountable to it.
What if I get “Busy”?
I guarantee that as soon as you start on these projects and actions, you will get “busy”! Whenever you look to change your situation, there is always a challenge that will stand in your way – ALWAYS. However, to achieve your vision, we have to remain focused. After all, your vision is dependent on your action plan and then consistently taking steps to execute it. Let’s take a look at a few prioritisation frameworks that you might want to consider to help you prioritise.
How to Prioritise
Prioritise By (High) Impact (Low) Effort
Create a “Y-axis” of impact from low to high, an “X-axis” of effort from high to low and place your post-it notes into the matrix. You’ll want to prioritise the ones that have the biggest impact for the least amount of effort – hence low hanging fruit. You may have found through your brainstorming sessions that some large projects seem like a lot of effort. I would encourage you to break them down because you’ll probably find the components are quite achievable and may have a significant impact on other projects. These should go into the high impact / low effort quadrant, which are the things to do now.
Using the Domino Effect
The Domino Effect is often used in motivational approaches and suggests that one behaviour it will activate a chain reaction that creates changes in other behaviours. Likewise, you can take this approach to prioritise.
Gary Keller proposes in the book ‘The ONE Thing’ a simple question to guide the prioritisation process. “What is the ONE thing I can accomplish [from this list] so that if I accomplish it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?” In other words, what could you focus on that will have the most significant knock-on effect towards achieving your goal?
Find the Bottleneck
The bottleneck is a term grounded in manufacturing and process improvement and in essence, it means a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. You can go ahead and improve everything around a single constraint, but if that constraint remains, you’re not going to have any improvements (and you will have a decent amount of frustration). When prioritising, consider constraints that, when removed, will make all other projects or actions happen more seamlessly.
Risk Prioritisation Matrix
The final framework that you might want to consider is a project management approach. It defines projects based on risks and the impact if that risk was realised. This is similar to our Effort-Impact framework in that you’d take action on the items that have the highest likelihood of occurring and most significant impact on the business. Define your mitigation approach and undertake a project to fix that ASAP.
OK, Now to Take Action
There are lots of approaches that can be taken to prioritise your projects to achieve your vision. I’d encourage you to find a prioritisation approach that best suits you and your business, or overlay several of the methods, which is what I do. Once your priorities are clearly defined, now is the time to take action.
- Block time out (and encourage your team to do so too), to work on the actions and achieve your goals – the “working on the business, not in it” adage.
- Set time aside to regularly review the action list and check-in with your team to keep them on track.
- Ensure that you hold yourself and your team accountable. Letting due dates pass and failing to set it as a priority often sets the standard for what is acceptable in your business.
- You may find that some actions are not getting… well actioned. My advice is to break them down into achievable tasks. We get overwhelmed when we don’t get things done. Make sure that each action is small enough to be ticked off easily; this will create momentum.
- If your plans start to fall behind, reset. No one is perfect, and taking imperfect action is better than no action at all!
What to do next:
As we are rapidly approaching the end of the financial year, this is the key time to be thinking about your vision and the actions needed to be taken in the next 12 months to achieve them. Not good at this? Book a chat to see if we might be a match to work with each other.