The Discipline of Getting Things Done

I love being an entrepreneur. I love being my own boss. The freedom to operate my business the way I want to is everything I hoped it would be. The downside is, I had no idea how much work it would be. With only a small team, the quantity of work to be done by each person is often overwhelming. The challenge is determining what to work on first.

“If you want to get your ducks in a row, you must first get your head above water.” Unknown

My CFO and I were having a conversation on this topic last week and we agreed that we need to be working on those critical items that are most essential for the business. The key to getting things done is learning how to prioritize actions and having the discipline to follow through until they are complete. It also means saying no to less important activities.

Prioritizing actions when you are overloaded is easier said than done; however, there are some simple steps you can take to determine which activities need to be done first and which actions can be stopped, delegated or put aside. I suggest using the Action Priority Matrix as a tool to help you walk through these steps.

“In order to say yes to your priorities, you have to be willing to say no to something else.” Unknown

The Action Priority Matrix can help you choose the activities you should prioritize to work on and the ones you should avoid. It’s important to weed out the “wish list” from the actions that are needed for the business. This screening process is critical, especially when you have limited time and resources.

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Keep in mind, the Action Priority Matrix is for individuals but it needs to be tied to the overall business goals as well. Therefore, before using the Action Priority Matrix, it’s essential to understand the high priority goals for the business. If you don’t already have a list of the Top 10 Business Goals, you should develop one jointly with your management team.

Once you understand your business goals, using the tool is simple. even has a worksheet you can download. Follow these 4 steps:

Step 1. List all the major activities that you need to complete.

Step 2. Score each activity on business impact using your Top 10 Business Goals as a guide (from 0 for no impact to 10 for maximum impact).

Step 3. Score each activity on the effort involved (from 0 for no real effort to 10 for a major effort).

Step 4. Plot the activities on the Action Priority Matrix.

Once all your major activities are plotted on the matrix, the next step is to prioritize all your activities. Here are some simple guidelines to deal with the activities in each quadrant of the matrix:

Quick Wins (High Impact, Low Effort). Quick wins are the most attractive projects. They provide a strong return with relatively little effort. Get these actions done first. Completing quick wins will give you a feeling of accomplishment and create momentum to complete other tasks.

Major Projects (High Impact, High Effort). Major projects are critical to the business but they can be very time-consuming. Be careful here because one major project can “crowd out” many quick wins. Set aside time each day (2-3 hours) to work on your major projects but don’t stop working on the quick wins.

Fill Ins (Low Impact, Low Effort). Stop worrying about these actions. If you have spare time, do them, but try to delegate them or drop them altogether if you can.

Thankless Tasks (Low Impact, High Effort). Avoid these activities. They give little return and they soak up valuable time that should be used on quick wins and major projects. Delegate these tasks or drop them altogether.

The Action Priority Matrix is just one of many tools that can be used to help you prioritize your actions. The key to making progress, however, is being disciplined to follow through and complete each high impact action item. Lists are great but actions are better. Your focus should be on completing the high impact action items as quickly as possible and not get bogged down in thankless tasks.

What do you think? Have you tried the Action Priority Matrix? How has it worked for you? What other methods have you used to prioritize actions? What other ways can we tie actions to the business goals? Let me know in the comment section below.

{Zen Garden on Beach Photo Credit: Mari Armstrong}

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