Entrepreneurs face high expectations. They are ultimately responsible for their fledgling company’s success or failure, which is no small burden. Outsiders may wonder how entrepreneurs have enough time and energy to get everything done when their plates are so full. However, successful entrepreneurs understand that the answer to this question is prioritization—not multi-tasking, contrary to what many expect.
Trying to accomplish several tasks at once almost always causes something to fall through the cracks. Multi-tasking reduces your efficiency and overall performance; contrary to what many of us have been told, the human brain cannot focus on several things at once.
The most successful entrepreneurs understand how to prioritize and focus on the one task that must be completed in a particular instant to keep everything afloat. If you’re wondering whether you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, your ability to prioritize is an important factor.
Even Warren Buffett has emphasized the importance of prioritization. According to one story, he told one of his employees to write down a list of 25 career goals and then circle the top five that were most important. Then, he asked the employee about the 20 items he did not circle. The employee responded that these secondary goals were still somewhat important, so he would work on them intermittently. Buffett corrected him. According to Buffett, those 20 goals represented pursuits that should be avoided at all costs until the top five had been achieved. This story points out the difficulty in prioritization: you have to make hard choices, commit fully to what’s most important, and even put aside some goals you’d like to pursue.
Common Problems in Prioritizing
Buffett’s advice about prioritization can help entrepreneurs become more focused, but there are other points to keep in mind as well. One of the most important lessons for entrepreneurs to learn is to let go of perfectionism. Most people who want to start their own companies are “Type A overachievers” and consistently shoot for perfection in their professional lives. However, in the context of entrepreneurship, perfectionism can actually be a problem. Sometimes, entrepreneurs need to drop a particular task before it’s done to their satisfaction, in order to focus on something that is more important. Entrepreneurs don’t always have the luxury of returning to the first task, so it’s important to learn how to let things go when they are good enough.
Often, high performers are uncomfortable with this rough-and-tumble, “done is better than perfect” approach to work. However, people who become bogged down in the details of every little task can drown under the pressure and fail to finish projects.
Similarly, entrepreneurs also need to learn how to abandon a sinking ship. Instead of pouring more time into a task that’s consuming too much energy, it’s often better to move on to something else. Sometimes, this means giving up on an individual project. However, it can also mean abandoning a business idea altogether and putting your energy into a better one—especially if the original idea isn’t bringing you closer to your most important goals.
The Importance of Self-Understanding in Business Prioritization
For entrepreneurs, good prioritization skills also depend on self-understanding. Entrepreneurs who achieve success usually have a good degree of self-awareness; they know their own strengths and weaknesses. This applies to prioritization in two distinct ways. First, you should know when you get your best work done. While some people function best in the morning, others thrive in the evening. Neither is better than the other. However, it’s important to recognize when you focus best and plan to get your most difficult and important tasks knocked out during this time. A morning person should avoid having to tackle a critical issue at the end of the day as much as possible. These situations are sometimes unavoidable, but it’s always beneficial to time your work to your advantage.
The other side of the self-understanding coin is knowing your limits. Sometimes, the task that takes priority at a given moment is critically important, yet outside of your area of expertise. In this moment, it’s important to recognize your limitations and enlist the help of someone else. Extremely important tasks should never fall through the cracks just because you’re too stubborn to ask for help.
When you start prioritizing, you’ll quickly learn that you need to delegate both individual tasks and broader responsibilities. As an entrepreneur, one of your top concerns should be assembling a team of talented people who will excel at the work you delegate to them. Don’t be afraid to hire people who are better than you in a certain area—no one person can possess all the skills and knowledge needed to run a company. Hire people who have the expertise you lack, and your company will be stronger for it. Companies like Censia offer a great way to find talented people with the right skill sets to help your company grow.