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Updated: Jan 21, 2020
One of the mainstays of being a business owner — next to high caffeine consumption — is managing a never-ending to-do list. Along with juggling everyday tasks, business owners also have to deal with a backlog of projects with varying importance.
Despite your best efforts to control your to-do list, sometimes items pile up unexpectedly. You might have to pause an office renovation to take care of orders during busy season, for example. Or, maybe you moved offices and had to postpone internal software updates amidst the chaos.
Whatever the reason, when you have a laundry list of to-dos, you need a strategy for getting everything done.
“As an entrepreneur there is never a shortage of business tasks to get done,” said Cortlon Cofield, a financial planner and accountant for entrepreneurs. “Learning how to efficiently prioritize tasks is vital if you want to survive and grow,” he said.
Crossing items off your to-do list can help streamline operations, increase employee productivity, boost revenue, and improve customer service.
Depending on your workload and financial situation, though, prioritizing your to-do list can be tricky. When every project requires money, it’s tough to know what to spend your energy on.
Fortunately, you have options. Keep reading for five tips to tackle your to-do list.
Before you can dive headfirst into your to-do list, think about the necessity and value of each item on the list. Cofield recommended using a version of Stephen Covey’s time management matrix. Replace the time with tasks, then separate the tasks into four quadrants:
Urgent items refer to anything that requires immediate attention, while important items refer to tasks or projects that affect your clients or bottom line.
For example, tasks in the first quadrant could include onboarding a new employee, addressing a customer inquiry, or fulfilling an order. Tasks in the second quadrant might be updating your payroll software, revising your marketing plan, or training your sales team on a new technique.
Items in the third quadrant might include smaller deadlines, answering emails, or office updates like fixing the air conditioning or overhead lighting. Finally, items that fall into the fourth quadrant are usually busy work or distractions, Cofield said.
“By keeping your tasks in the correct quadrants, you will always know which tasks are most important,” he said, “and not get trapped in the hole of doing constant busy work while important tasks get ignored.”
It’s always a good idea to address the projects or tasks that can help streamline your business operations. Consider which internal processes or systems are the least efficient and most frustrating to engage with. This could be anything from tracking business development activities to scheduling company meetings.
Upgrading your payroll software, for example, can automate tedious data entry processes and save your HR employees time. Implementing new inventory management techniques can help employees maximize sales and ship orders faster.
Improving your company’s internal systems helps employees work more efficiently, which in turn allows them to devote more time and energy to securing sales or taking care of clients.
Your business’s working capital and cash flow tend to dictate which to-do list items you can handle first. As you go through your list, note the potential cost and impact of each item. You can sort the items into categories:
Understanding which projects or initiatives require the most money and provide the greatest ROI is crucial to prioritizing your to-dos.
“For me, it comes down to paying for items that will keep the business day-to-day operations intact,” Cofield said. “For example, if I need a new CRM software to ensure that client requests don’t get lost in the shuffle,” he said, “I will purchase this before purchasing new office upgrades.”
It’s critical to consider what will keep your business up and running, but also what will help propel your business forward. “The most important tasks are ones that drive long-term business growth,” said Stacy Caprio, the owner of Deals Scoop.
For example, social media ads and email campaigns tend to be low-cost, but have a far reach and a high ROI. On the other hand, some projects might be expensive but have the potential to set you up for long-term success.
Tackle the tasks that will ultimately help you bring in more money than they cost to execute, Caprio said. “This will set you up to be making more than you’re spending as soon as possible,” she said.
If you’re not sure which projects to start with, consider what will bring the most value to your clients or customers. Redesigning your store layout, for example, could help improve your customers’ shopping experience, while upgrading your point-of-sale system could facilitate payment and lead to faster, easier sales.
“I always recommend putting the customer first,” said Cofield, “because if they are satisfied, your business will grow.” It’s a domino effect. When your business is thriving, Cofield said, you’ll have more revenue to put toward future employee interests like office upgrades.
If everything on your business to-do list costs money, you may want to consider your options for funding.
Getting a loan can give you the financial security and flexibility to tackle your laundry list all at once.
Instead of sacrificing upgrades or delaying projects, you can take care of everything that’s been on the backburner. Depending on your schedule and working capital situation, you can either front-load your projects to repay your loan early or space them out over time to minimize your monthly repayments.
The beauty of getting a loan is that you can manage your task list in whatever way works best for your business. Having extra funding can help facilitate operations, reduce your workload, and prepare you for big growth projects.
If you have a consistently long business to-do list, try setting up systems to help reduce your stress and prevent your to-dos from getting out of hand. Here are three key tips from the experts:
“Putting a deadline on larger company to-dos is a great way to know which to prioritize in any given day or week,” said Caprio. Give yourself a realistic deadline for accomplishing each task, then break each one into smaller chunks (if you need to) and work backwards to create mini deadlines along the way.
Say you want to switch to a new CRM software by the end of the quarter, for example. Give yourself a deadline for researching the different types of software, a deadline for making calls to get quotes, another deadline for choosing the software and filling out your contract, and a final deadline for phasing out the old software and adopting your new system.
“This way the tasks don’t take up your time every single day as busy work,” Caprio said, “but are done before the deadline and not pushed back indefinitely.”
“I think every entrepreneur should keep a running list throughout the year of purchases that will improve their business for the next year,” Cofield said. Think: everything from new products to cloud-based communication software. Tracking your purchases and projects gives you a better idea of which tasks bring the most value to your business and which ones you should continue to invest in.
Aim to review the list during the last quarter of the year and make any necessary purchases before the end of the year, Cofield suggested. “This way [business owners] can benefit twice; first by lowering their tax liability for the current year,” he said, “and second by increasing revenues for the next year. It’s a win-win.”
When you have a massive list of things to do, outsourcing can help lessen your burden and ensure everything gets taken care of in a timely manner. Consider which projects you can afford to offload to an outside agency or consultant, and which you can delegate to your employees.
Finding and hiring outside help may seem daunting, but setting up a relationship with the right consultant or group can save you energy and time down the road.
It’s also smart to look internally. If you don’t already have a dedicated office manager, consider investing in someone who can oversee day-to-day tasks and help you manage your business to-do list.
If you need a loan to help cross items off your lengthy to-do list, we can help. Funding Circle business loans have terms from $25-$500K *Funding Circle may partner with other lenders to provide a full range of loan options to qualified borrowers, and affordable rates. Plus, you can apply in minutes and hear back in as little as 24 hours. Learn more or apply today.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.