What If Everything’s Important? (Part 1: ‘How to lose your day in 5-minute increments’)

As a business owner, you are bombarded with a steady stream of helpful hacks and well-meaning advice about how you should be spending your time.

These often stress that spending “just 5 minutes" here and there can help you accomplish an astonishing array of tasks, keep all your plates spinning and make your business a success.

“Take 20 minutes a day to manage social media interactions”.
“Spend just 45 minutes a day on client outreach”. 
“Check your inbox every half hour for important customer emails ”.
​“Invest just 5 minutes a day in a LinkedIn or Facebook update”
“Just 15 minutes each day will help you keep on top of your expenses”.

​Yes, these are all good, and important, but… what if… everything’s important? How do you chose which important tasks to pursue (and so which to ignore) without losing your entire day to other peoples’ priorities?

In reality, you probably struggle to get all your daily tasks done even though they require only small units of your time. And, rather than moving forwards, at the end of the busiest of days it can still feel like your business is treading water. 

This is because, time is not the real issue here, it’s priority – and, as a business owner, it generally feels like everything is a priority.

With some frequency, I hear the same problems:

  • Being busy, yet never feeling on top of things.
  • Days regularly consumed by urgent, yet trivial tasks. 
  • The business of ‘real work’ featuring at the bottom of a long list of things to do.
  • Difficulty in allocating time to important things such as larger projects, or plans for the future. 

For anyone running a business, this can create a constant cycle of overwhelm and a fruitless fight to catch up on things.

How do you break this cycle? ​Start with these 4 easy tips:

  1. Differentiate: A long list of things to do will not help you prioritise. Instead, create 3 separate lists and divide tasks between them.  Use a ‘10-Minute’ list to record small tasks (that will take no more than 10 minutes!) you can do when you have time spare. Create a ‘To-Do list’ for larger tasks and projects. And finally, make a ‘Can’t-Do List’ (an ‘as & when’ reminder list) to record tasks that will ultimately need doing, but not with any urgency. 
  2. Focus on Value: It is unlikely that you value all the items on your To-Do List the same. For instance, you may value client work above internal work. Or, you may have a particular preference for doing either easier or harder tasks first. Decide on an approach and highlight the tasks with the greatest value – tackle these first. 
  3. Set Deadlines: Often, it is an impending deadline or penalty that pushes urgent tasks above everything else. So, to prevent items from being overlooked, establish a realistic deadline for all the tasks on your To-Do List. Once you reach your deadline, set it aside and move on to the next. Don’t be tempted to mull over finer details or take unnecessary steps to keep your customer happy.
  4. Delegate: Be realistic about how long it takes to do things and avoid overcommitting yourself. If extra tasks are unavoidable, don’t be tempted to start multitasking. Instead, delegate any tasks that don’t require your input and turn your attention to those that do.

With so many competing demands for your attention it can sometimes be difficult to see the wood for the trees, and finding the precise recipe that works for you will require a degree of trial and error. But don’t be dismayed; this experimentation is a vital part of mobilisation and progress, and is all part of your taking back control.

One more thought: You are, of course, not alone in your need to prioritise. Your prospects and customers are struggling with the same conflicts – opening up a whole new question of how you get yourself onto your prospects’ and customers’ priority lists when they themselves are equally busy and distracted.

That’s the subject of our next post…

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