Like most business owners, my to-do list tends to be out of control, and tends to be scattered in unsaved Microsoft Word and Notepad documents, iPad apps, on random sheets of paper, Post-its of every size and color, and the occasional napkin. There are a ton of great blog posts and books out there on corralling those lists (I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done). What I’ve found is a great way to prioritize the tasks on the lists themselves, in a way that maximizes your focus on the things that really count.
I’ve personally found that, in looking at a long list of tasks and projects, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I often find myself seeking out the most interesting or creative task (which can also be the most mentally taxing), which more often than not, isn’t the most urgent or valuable task at that given time. Or, I’ll look for easy, mind-numbing tasks that don’t really move me toward my goals, but sure feel satisfying to cross off the list. Often, while working on these tasks, I’ll start new ones simultaneously because my mind is wandering.
To help myself focus, I created a flowchart that I’ve posted in my workstation. (The constant visual reminder is helpful to me; others may be able to just read through it once and not need to refer back). This flowchart guides me to prioritize my tasks on a weekly, daily, even hourly basis — to choose the tasks that are most in alignment with my business goals. It goes something like this, with the most important category first:
1. Tasks that resolve urgent matters. This includes dealing with emergencies of any kind, answering client phone calls and emails, and handling any of my team’s questions about time-sensitive issues.
2. Tasks that make us money. This includes responding to new client inquiries (98% of which come through a contact form on our website), following up with existing inquiries and pending sales, writing proposals and contracts, interacting with other vendors in a way that generates referrals, and tracking everything relating to inquiries and sales so I can identify any shortcomings.
3, Tasks that enhance our company’s image. This includes writing blog posts (for MyDeejay’s blog, WeddingIQ, and guest posts for others’ blogs), sending thank-you cards and emails to clients and other vendors, and fine-tuning our website and other marketing materials.
4. Tasks that benefit our other ventures. I personally am excited to have several projects in the pipeline (WeddingIQ, before its recent launch, was one). This category would cover any tasks related to those projects and ventures.
5. Miscellaneous projects. This is my catch-all category, which includes staff recruitment, training and ongoing development, planning longer-term marketing strategies, and pretty much anything that would be classified as “administrative.”
By having these categories delineated and prioritized, I’m able to look at a long to-do list and pick first the tasks related to category #1, then #2, and so on. If I’m inspired to work on a particular task, I can easily determine where it falls on my flowchart and then decide accordingly if it’s the best use of my time.
This is just an example of how my role was categorized; I made a similar flowchart for my company’s general manager that includes different types of tasks, but similar basic categories. These flowcharts have made a world of difference in our productivity and focus.