When you are starting a business there are a million things to do, and half of them are distractions. Do you take this morning to make business cards, set up email for your company, or talk with your bank? Even five years into my consulting practice, I still have competing priorities from client calls to billing to managing projects. It is a truism to say every entrepreneur has a to-do list a mile long. If you make sure to do your to-dos, you can make the difference between success and failure in your business.
Get out of my head, get onto my list
When you’re operationalizing your business so many things seem important. Make a big list. Put everything on it. Everything means everything from “buy more pens” to “get a loan.” Clear your mind. David Allen, productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, calls this “collecting.” You do a sweep and put everything that’s on your mind into your system. Then you try to do, delegate or defer things based on priorities. Allen’s isn’t the only system in the world, though it is hugely popular. The key is to do what works for you to get all the competing ideas into a format where you can actually work on them.
Pick the Right To-Do List Management
Never fear, there are numerous ways to keep track of your priorities. In fact so numerous that you can spend 30 minutes just reading articles about different web-based and phone-based apps to help you keep your to-do list in order! (Don’t do that, who has time for that?) First, there’s a pad and a pen. Yes, quite retro, but it still works. If you’re into keeping your list on the computer and want to have a copy of it everywhere, solutions abound. Outlook has a tasks list, and Gmail has a to-do list. For solo practitioners, I like RememberTheMilk.com, a web-based system has the tasks, locations, contacts, and ability to forward yourself emails and have them turned into tasks in the system. For $25 a year, the pro version lets you use the software on android, iPad/iPhone, Outlook, Google integration, and more. Many people also use Evernote.
For teams, the SalesForce.com “startup” Do.com has all the team-based features and integrates, not surprisingly, with SalesForce and Google, syncs with other calendar software and more. By the way, if you haven’t even started a company because you don’t know where to start, I humbly suggest WickedStart.com, a powerful step-by-step system that will help you start a business (disclosure: it is also a company I advise and have an interest in.) By the way, don’t let your to-do list get out of hand.
From To-Do to Project Management
At some point, your business will move from the “to-do list stage” to the “project management stage.” If you’re building software or building out an office space, you may have found the list of items starts to have dependencies – item a must be done before item b, and Item b and c have to start together. Once that happens, you’re in project management territory. Podio.com, owned by Citrix, is not only project management and tasks for teams, but has a platform where you can customize the software and create your own apps. They work on the desktop or mobile. Basecamp is very popular for teams, because of its very simple design and easy to use interface. I seem to always supplement Basecamp with other services because of that simplicity, but many people swear by it.
Keep Things on Track When You’re Up and Running
Once you’ve got your business running, there are still lots of priorities. But even more important is measuring how your business is going. One business I advise has over 20 contractors in 10 locations. If consultants don’t put their time sheets in on time, the business can’t bill clients for consultant’s time and they are losing money. We’re in the process of automating that, and implementing systems that make it easy for the contractors to report their time via web or phone-based app daily. Using this reporting, the company will not only know if consultants are fully utilized, but also if there are opportunities to have more consultants and more work at each location. Additionally, the company will be measuring consultant results in a more effective way, to see who’s pulling their weight and who is taking profit away. You can’t improve what you’re not measuring. Put that on your to-do list as well.
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Photo via RobStephAustralia on Flickr.