Many business owners and senior managers face the same challenge.

A long list of actions on the to-do list, some of which have been recycled many times.

So, how do you decide which are the most important tasks to tackle first?

And more importantly, how do you find the time to make things happen?

I work with some fascinating businesses, across many sectors, supporting the business owners to achieve their goals.

However, when we first meet, the business owners tend to highlight their difficulty in growing their business any further because they are overwhelmed with a multitude of things to do.

They have a long list of ideas and actions, but day-to-day tasks get in the way which just needs to be completed, therefore ultimately they don’t have time to implement their business growth plans.

This is because they are very busy being reactive to all the incoming requests from customers, staff, suppliers and the dreaded volume of emails we receive these days.

If you find yourself in what we at Business Doctors call the ‘business owner’s trap’, how do you set a clear action plan which is not only manageable but will also result in the achievement of your objectives?

1. Take some time out.  Step back by blocking at least half a day out of your diary a month. Book the meeting room or get off-site; there are some great venues, cafés, parks (in this lovely weather) or alternative environments where you can be inspired and won’t be disturbed.

Take all your task lists, ideas and a notepad with you.

2. Set a context first to help choose what to work on.

Write down the number one thing you want to achieve in the remainder of 2018; is it increasing profitability, improving cash-flow, obtaining new clients, moving premises or it could be rebranding and launching a marketing campaign?

Make sure though it is realistic and achievable within the timeframe.

I met with a client recently and, after going through this process, he set three key objectives over a two-year timescale.

Objective number one was to have a valuable, debt-free business within two years.

Number two was to always be learning, i.e. having the time out of the business to improve himself, through training and development and being part of a peer-to-peer group. The third was having all of the business information organised and to hand.

3. List the key activities to achieve this overall objective.

This may include launching a new product or service or promoting an existing one better; investing in new systems/IT or machines to become more efficient; possibly employing a business development executive; sorting out your HR, health and safety and GDPR policies and procedures; holding a staff communication session, or even securing everyone’s roles and responsibilities through holding one-to-one meetings.

For many business owners, it may just be having the time to build stronger relationships with existing clients and finding new customers.

The challenge here is that the list can be very long. The client I mentioned above had 95 items on their list.

So, ensure you sense check your list and cluster any ideas before moving to the next stage. Ask yourself: are some actions on my list part of achieving a bigger project or could they be linked under the same initiative?

4. Determine what tasks to work on first.  

Score these tasks and activities – one for low, five for high – on the impact they will make on the business within the timeframe set.

Then, score them again based on how difficult they are to deliver (one for easy; five for those that would become long-term projects).

Add the two scores together for each objective. Those that scored highest, ie seven to 10, will likely be projects for the longer term overall business goals, so put these aside for now and we will revisit them at a later date.

Any tasks that are very low scoring (one to three) are just fill-in tasks which you can slot in as and when you have time, but are not likely to be that important.

You should be left with a handful of actions which have combined scores of four to six. 

Any which are high on business impact (four to five) but low on time (one to two) are the first to go on your action plan.

These are your quick wins. However, be aware that any which are low scoring on impact (one to two) but high on time (four to five), are thankless tasks.

Ditch these as they are time wasters – some may even be nice to do but just get rid of them.

Ideally, you don’t want more than 12-15 tasks to be working on.

My client ended up with 11 tasks to work on over the next 90 days.

If you like visuals, a model you can use is the action priority matrix below.

5.   Get your diary/planner out .

Then set a realistic timeframe starting with those quick wins.

Determine which of these can be done today, tomorrow or this week.

Immediately block time in your diary to tackle these or to share and delegate these tasks.

Remember: you don’t have to do everything yourself; utilise your team around you.

Then, plan out your next 90 days and determine if any of those projects scoring seven to 10 could actually be delivered and completed within this timeframe.

Determine which project will make the largest positive impact to achieving your business objectives.

Make sure you only choose one.

Again, block time out in your diary, initially to plan and/or get your team together and discuss this project.

A key success factor is breaking these larger projects into bite sized chunks and allocating responsibilities across your team.

Ensure you plan a follow up meeting in a few weeks’ time to assess progress.

As for the “fill-in” tasks, keep these next to your desk or on a white board and complete these as and when you have time. Make use you review your list each week and try not to add anything new to it.

One thing you will need to change is your behaviour and way of working. Here is one tip to help you free up some more time to work.

Dealing with a high volume of emails. When at your desk, don’t have your emails open all the time.

Turn off notifications from all social media feeds, phone included, as these will distract you and will soak up a lot of time.

Inevitably, we lose hours every day scrolling through social media feeds.

Treat emails as you would the old postal system, work on them for an hour first thing in the morning and again early afternoon or just before you go home.

Also, bear in mind that for every email you send you are likely to get at least one back or, in some cases, many if you have a habit of cc’ing everyone in.

So, why not pick up the phone or visit the person in question if they’re based in your office complex?

It is important to note that, if you don’t change your behaviours, you will never get anything done and therefore you will not achieve your goals and aspirations. If you are still too busy next week, ask yourself, what I am doing with my time?

Or better still log where you’re spending your time and then change your habits.

Remember – change starts with you!

What to know more?

Please join Business Doctors Cumbria on Friday 20th of July, Carlisle Business Breakfast Seminar “Work Smarter not Harder” Make your Business Work for you. Crown & Mitre 8.00am – 10.00am


If you are looking to review and then grow your business,  Business Doctors Cumbria offers a free business health check to help you share your challenges (a relaxed chat over a cup of coffee). And if we can help - you will establish a clear vision and understand the steps to fulfil your aspirations.

Booking link:

Contact: Peter Fleming 07966 686112

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