How to Prioritize Tasks: Keep This, Delegate That
As you build your business, it often becomes necessary to start outsourcing parts of the business you once executed. As the owner and leader of the business, your time is often far too valuable to continue doing the mundane, day-to-day tasks that could be easily systematized and outsourced to others to perform at a lower cost. Figuring out how to prioritize tasks so that you are spending your time in the right places is an essential part of this process.
There are two common issues that come up during this process that I focus on with my clients. First, there’s the issue of what tasks to delegate and which tasks to keep. Second, there’s also a struggle that happens when someone moves from the more tangible, concrete tasks that are involved with execution to the more abstract, visionary tasks that must happen to continue to grow the business.
How to Prioritize Tasks
The strategies that helped you create your business are not often the same ones that will help you continue to grow your business. Learning how to prioritize tasks strategically is an important skill to master.
By delegating strategically, you free yourself up to spend your time on the necessary tasks that you may be tempted to put off because you’re overwhelmed. It also frees you up to spend time on the things that drive the business forward rather than simply executing the day-to-day things that need to get checked off.
When I first start working with new clients, we often start by focusing on how to prioritize tasks by identifying the day-to-day operations that they need to take off their plate. The first step in this process is to complete a basic time tracking exercise so we can figure out where they are spending their time.
As tempting as it is to dive right into figuring out how to prioritize tasks, it’s important to get a solid baseline of where you’re currently spending your time as well as examining a few key things, like capacity, productivity, and profitability. This post on time tracking goes into more detail on this.
I like to use the $10, $100, $1000 task matrix so we can get some concrete numbers on the value of their time. It is very common for us to see that they’re spending far, far too much time on $10 or even $100 tasks and not nearly enough time on $1000 or even $10,000 tasks.
But before we dive into that, we have to spend some time talking about these categories of tasks because they aren’t always immediately obvious to people.
The $10 Tasks
When we think about how to prioritize, these are the tasks that we generally want to start with. $10 tasks are generally administrative tasks that are easily systematized since they are repeatable in nature. These could be things, like basic customer service, setting up blog posts, sending documents to a client, or completing simple copy edits to a webpage.
While they are things that need to be done, they’re pretty basic tasks that are easy to hand off and typically don’t require a high-level contractor to complete. In many cases, you could pay someone in the $10-20/hr range to complete them. These should rarely be completed by you.
The $100 Tasks
These are the ones that are a bit higher on the spectrum of tasks. They may require a more skilled contractor to complete, or they may even need your personal skills. These tasks are often not quite as open to systematization and would require more training or input from you before you could pass them off. In the spectrum of how to prioritize tasks, these are not completely insurmountable, but they will require a bit more forethought, preparation, and investment to outsource.
Things like content creation, sales page drafting, website building, and bookkeeping may all fall into this category. These types of tasks can be completed by you as time allows, but some will likely fall into the category of what to delegate.
When we look at these types of tasks, I often prioritize the ones that fall outside your wheelhouse or ones that are particularly draining as what to delegate first. There are things you might be able to figure out, but they’ll certainly take far longer than they need to because you aren’t an expert. Or, they are so energetically draining that they suck far more out of your day than expected.
Bookkeeping is one of those tasks for me and many of my clients. I technically could do it myself, but I always feel like I’m guessing when I try. It’s also a very frustrating task for me, so I tend to avoid it as long as I can. It’s far better to outsource it than for me to hold onto it — even though it’s technically a “short and easy” task.
The $1000 or Even $10,000 Tasks
I often hear from clients that they don’t have any of these high-level tasks, but when we dig in, we usually find some. These high-value tasks generally fall into the business development category — things that help grow your business and generate revenue. This could be serving clients, but even that can sometimes be done, at least partially, by team members.
These $1000 or $10,000 tasks, though, are far more likely to be ones that only you can do. Think — creating a new package, planning a retreat, creating a new course or product, and networking to bring in new clients.
Here’s the thing though: They often don’t feel as important because they’re a longer game. They aren’t going to generate revenue today or even next week, but in the long run, they have the potential to bring in tons of revenue for your business.
You may have already guessed where you want to be spending your time as the owner and leader of the business.
That’s right, the bulk of your time needs to go to those $1000 or $10,000 tasks — not the $10 tasks. You can spend some of your time in the $100 range, but it needs to be done only where it overlaps with your expertise or requires your direct input.
When you examine your time, you may find you’re spending a lot of it in the $10 range — and that’s ok for now.
The goal is first to identify where you’re at so you can make a plan around how to prioritize your tasks more strategically. This will help you get to where you want to be over time.
Don’t beat yourself up over it; instead, focus on what needs to change to free you up for the higher level tasks that will help you generate more revenue for the business.
This could mean:
Hiring a virtual assistant
Creating some systems
Getting rid of some things that don’t really need to be done
It could also require hiring some experts to help get projects going that you’ve been trying to do yourself for too long. Here, it could be things, like setting up your shopping cart, integrating your autoresponder, or finally getting that launch executed.
Identifying how to prioritize tasks to free you up to create and generate what truly needs your input to help the business grow is essential to the overall success and health of your enterprise. Once you can do this, you’ll be able to get your business to the next level.
What Happens After You Learn How to Prioritize Tasks Strategically?
As you free up your time to focus on higher level tasks more in line with those that will help you grow the business, you may start to experience an interesting phenomenon. When you start to focus ON the business rather than work IN the business, you will likely move away from the concrete tasks that you can check off a to-do list.
Instead, you will likely spend your time on those $1000 or $10,000 tasks that allow you to create new revenue streams, build relationships, and grow your existing business in new and exciting ways.
These types of things, though, are often far more abstract than what you may be used to. They also tend to be longer-term things without a clear start and stop date — unlike more concrete tasks. This can make it feel like you’re no longer getting things done and can sometimes cause business owners to feel like they’re not contributing enough to the business.
It’s a very normal part of the process to feel this way as you learn how to prioritize tasks more strategically. It’s a whole new way of doing things and a whole new set of things you are focusing on.
So it’s important to develop methods to stay motivated and on track, as you work on these types of tasks and projects, so you don’t lose sight of how you’re still very much contributing to the greater sustainability and growth of the business.
You’ll generally also find that you need to change how you work when tweaking how you prioritize tasks. For instance, when you are focusing on more concrete to-dos, it’s possible to tackle a longer list of items in a single work session. As you move to the $1000 or $10,000 type of tasks, you may find that you have a single “to-do” on your list for the day.
That’s because these types of tasks require a lot more freeform thinking time to explore than a concrete to-do you can complete in a matter of minutes. Again, this doesn’t make them harder to complete, but it does become important to better plan for when you’re going to do them to allow sufficient time to really dig in.
How to Prioritize Tasks for Maximum Value
As you get better at identifying what you as the owner need to be focusing on versus what you need to be delegating, you’ll find that your time has more and more impact on the overall health of the business. When you’re not spending your time on the simple, day-to-day operational tasks in the business, you free yourself up to spend that time on the higher value tasks that help bring the business to new heights.