Thought Leadership

How to harness your creativity for business
August 10, 2015

How to prioritise tasks and focus on those that grow your start-up

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” — Francis of Assisi

Starting and running a small business can turn your life upside down, especially in the initial years.

You work like a maniac, cash flow is tight, you juggle between 100 things, don’t know if you have got money in the bank to pay salaries and so on.

And to top it all, you don’t understand why your family does not understand you when you don’t have enough time for them. You are responsible for everything; right from office keys to salaries, to customer follow-ups and payments, to suppliers and calling the plumber to fix leaking taps.

As if this is not headache enough, you have to put on a brave face in front of your customers, employees, family.

Running your small business is going to be crazy for quite a while. After all, entrepreneurship is a conscious choice you make because you want to make a difference.

Remember: entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.

At first everything seems important and urgent and you are not able to decide what to focus on.

But remember: what is urgent is seldom important, and what is important is seldom urgent.

Being more productive in your small business boils down to your ability to prioritise, focus and execute. Here’s a simple technique.

Use this decision matrix

a). Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately)

b). Important but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later)

c). Urgent but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else)

d). Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate)

Using this matrix will give you amazing results. You can use it to prioritise your quarterly goals, weekly targets and even daily tasks.

The one challenge that every small business owner faces is distinguishing between urgent and important matters.

Urgent tasks make you feel the pressure to react immediately. Say you have been working on your business plan and open your mail only to see a new task and feel like attending to it. This becomes an urgent task rather as opposed to the important one of making your business plan. The definition of what’s urgent and what’s important varies.

Important tasks are those that contribute to your long-term mission, values and goals. They help you accomplish your goals and are the most difficult ones to focus on.

Urgent tasks, on the other hand, are those that you feel the need to react to immediately because they have a short deadline.

So, make a list of your goals and design your activities as follows:

a). Important and urgent: do them now. These tasks contribute to your overall goals and objectives and need to be handled urgently.

Use these rules:

Tasks must be critical

The tasks must be critical and goal-based; they cannot be delegated; they should be given your personal time and attention; they need to be attended to immediately; and they should remain few.

b). Important but not urgent. Decide when to do these tasks because they contribute to your overall goals and objective and need not be handled urgently, say submitting your tax returns. Use these rules:

The tasks are somewhat critical but not urgent; they can be partly delegated; they need your attention too; and they can be scheduled. This is where you should spend most of your time.

c). Not important but urgent: Delegate. These tasks do not contribute to your overall goals and objective but need to be handled urgently, say your leaking tap or bills.

Use these rules: They are not critical to your goals but need urgent attention; they can be delegated; they don’t need your full attention ; they can be scheduled. This is where you should spend less time.

d). Not important and not urgent: Dump them. These tasks do not contribute to your overall goals and objective and are not urgent, for example scrolling through Facebook and Twitter pages for no good reason.

Use these rules: They are not critical to your goals and don’t need your urgent attention; they can be dumped; and they can be eliminated.

The idea is to spend most of your time in quadrant b), planning and executing tasks for the growth and success of your small business.

Moreover, working on quadrant b) means your activities are scheduled and planned rather than spending a lot of your time fire-fighting.

Bharatam is the founder and chief mentor of Kuza Biashara Limited, a capacity building organisation which coaches youths and SME owners in Kenya.

He also chairs Entrepreneurs’ Organisation for Africa. You can reach him on or @Sbharatam

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