Small Business Owners Must Prioritize to Survive

Posted by Matt Reilly on 09 November, 2017

Everyone who works for a living, small business owner or otherwise, knows the feeling of a to-do list that never runs out. To-do lists are great because they keep us from forgetting all the different tasks that need to be accomplished. This is particularly important for small teams and organizations where each person has more than one group of responsibilities.


But the problem with to-do lists and other, similar forms of task management (think: sticky notes all over your computer monitor) is that they don’t let you easily rank the tasks in order of priority. Often, whatever we added to the list most recently is what comes to mind when we are figuring out what we should spend our day doing. That, or we simply tackle the list in order of how it was written.


What busy small business owners (and teams!) need is a form of triage that allows for quick and easy differentiation between tasks based on their importance and timeframe. These categories should be something like:

  1. Keystone projects or immediately time-sensitive tasks. These to-dos are your top priority. Not being in compliance with some regulation because you didn’t file paperwork soon enough is a great way to waste future time and resources. Each of these tasks have a very high return on investment (or prevent a very big loss of investment, in the case of meeting regulations, etc.), and therefore drive the success of your business. Prioritize these above all else.

  2. Customer experience improvements and operational improvements. These goals are usually smaller than the keystone projects, but they carry a lot of weight when you are prioritizing because each one of these tasks that you accomplish will reduce the work you have to do in the future. Making a change to your “Thank You for Shopping” email so it includes a link to your FAQ page could save a lot of time that would have been spent answering the same customer question over and over. Upgrading to a better payroll software or improving cash flow with Pay As You Go Workers’ Compensation are other examples of how you can increase the time (and money) you have for the more important tasks in the future.

  3. Detail work and other drudgery. Lastly, we have the work that isn’t very time sensitive, doesn’t really improve customer or employee experience, isn’t part of a keystone project, but has to get done. Organizing old files and paperwork, for example. You’ll need to do it at some point, but taking time out of the other two kinds of work is not a great way to.

How can you effectively do this triage of incoming tasks, so that each kind of chore is stored in your list, and your mind, with the correct priority?


You could use an online task manager like Trello or Asana, which allows you to quickly insert tasks on lists that are pre-divided as you see fit, and can even be color-coded and include keyword tags.


Alternatively, you could setup a whiteboard in your office space with a few columns for each kind of task. You can use sticky notes to designate each, and move them up and down the columns based on priority.


Another option is to have a binder of to-do work. Each time you have a new task to add to your to-do list, you write down notes about the task, who is involved, when it needs to get done by, etc., and then insert the page into the binder in order of most-to-least important. Use tabbed dividers to separate each kind of task.


What system you use is up to your personal taste. What is important is keeping organized enough to make sure you don’t let key tasks slide by or accidently do unimportant work instead of filing needed documents that are time sensitive.

Topics: Small Business Advice

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