Editorial note: This is a guest post by Urmas Purde, the co-founder of the Estonian originated Pipedrive.
It’s that time of year again. Many of us are looking back at 2011 and plotting what to do differently next year. While there’s no doubt planning is a good thing, there’s a little something to keep in mind, especially if you’re working at startup pace.
I think it’s safe to say that in almost every startup there are always more things to be done than there are available people and resources. We’re constantly juggling with one or two balls too many, and it can be stressful keeping them all in the air. So when the time to reflect and plan comes, it’s very tempting to take the advice of time management gurus and write all to do’s on one sheet of paper. In theory this works well – the list in prioritized and all one has to do is tick things off the list, one by one. Plus this should create the feeling that juggling is now more under control.
In practice this list won’t make it into the second week of the new year. There is business as usual, and there are lots of other people making their new year’s resolutions. So your long list is likely to grow, and it will soon become a source of stress rathen than feeling of control. We simply do not have enough time to fulfill all our responsibilities. Sound familiar?
So what’s a startup entrepreneur to do? In my experience the best way to get your ducks in the row is to start making ridiculously few New Year’s resolutions. So few they fit on a post-it note, rather than a normal sheet. If you really want to you can still make a long “mother list” with everything that needs to be done, but pick just the first 2-3 as your resolutions, and focus on them. Our brain handles a couple of things so much more easily and less stressfully than lots and lots of things.
It will feel counterintuitive and it will be difficult to keep discipline. Especially hard are the responeses to co-workers inquiries when they ask about something not on you list – just try saying “No I have not started it yet and probably won’t start tomorrow either”. So it’s best to agree on businesss priorities first, do short New Year’s resolutions as a team excercise or simply share your short resolutions with the whole team. They’ll still think you’re a massive dork, but at least they understand why you are turning a request down.
Start by asking yourself: what is the most valuable use of my time right now? For example if you are in sales and setting goals for the next year try not to choose everything: making more phone calls, writing better proposals, get more meetings, close with a better ratio, etc. Just choose one to focus at the beginning of the year. I’ve worked with hundreds of sales teams in my previous career, and best performing teams deal with only one challenge at a time. And if you need to complete the API, add this magical feature and so forth – ask which one you really really need. (We just had that discussion in our team).
So here my advice to all startup entrepreneurs (and a note to self): when reviewing last years results and decing what to do the following one – choose only a couple things to focus on. Write 1-3 todos on a piece of paper or a small sticky note (1 for really zen people and 3 if you need some rehab from long lists). And then focus on nailing that short list. As an additional benefit you will notice that you actully don’t need the physical sticky note to maintain focus because it’s easy to remember one to three things.
Have a great 2012!
Urmas Purde is co-founder of Pipedrive, the sales productivity startup. Urmas has more than a decade’s worth of experience in increasing productivity of (sales) people, previously as a trainer and now as an entrepreneur in the CRM space.
Image by Ludie Cochrane