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Updated May 15, 2024

Time Crunch: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Prioritizing Your Tasks

Task management is critical for busy business owners. Here's how to get and stay organized.

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Jennifer Post, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
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Where does all the time go? Long hours. Late nights. Snatched lunches. Some people boast about their overwhelming work schedule as if it’s a badge of honor: “I start work at 7 a.m. and work right through 8 p.m.” Often, their Herculean claims border on the absurd. “Last night, I went to bed at 3 a.m. and got up two hours later to finish a report.”

However, this type of time crunch is often a reality for small business owners and entrepreneurs burdened with too many obligations. Successful entrepreneurs must learn how to balance their crushing workloads with a positive work-life balance to mitigate stress. We’ll provide tips on task prioritization and management to help busy business owners keep their heads above water and manage operations without pulling all-nighters. 

Did You Know?Did you know
However well-intentioned, excessive work hours can lead to devastating burnout. It's crucial to prevent burnout in the workplace to avoid its negative repercussions, including job dissatisfaction, inefficient decision-making, depression and even heart disease.

How an entrepreneur should prioritize tasks

Entrepreneurs who take a systematic approach to task organization are more efficient and less stressed. Consider the following tips for making your business more organized through task prioritization. 

1. Rank your responsibilities using the ABCD task-management method.

The ABCD task-management method is an excellent way to improve productivity by focusing on the right priorities. Here’s how it works: 

  1. Establish your A priorities: Ask yourself what your primary focus would be if you had nothing else to do tomorrow. No meetings, no calls, no reports — nothing. Start with a blank slate. What would affect your long-term results? The answers are your A priorities — the critical activities that advance your primary endeavors. These priorities may include hiring a new account manager, developing a major proposal or opening another business location. Your A priorities should comprise 20 to 30 percent of your time.
  2. Take care of your B responsibilities: B activities are the tasks in your job description that must be accomplished today. They’re the activities that keep you busy and may include corresponding with clients, handling claims, supervising staff, inputting data, checking contracts, shipping materials or updating databases. These responsibilities represent another 30 to 40 percent of work time for most people. Attend to them after you’ve worked on an A responsibility.
  3. Put C requirements in their proper place: C activities include the unplanned or unwritten aspects of your job that must be done. While you plan your A priorities, C requirements are often planned for you. They may include department meetings, routine requests, expense reports, filing, sorting and reading updates. C tasks should take up 20 to 25 percent of your time. Within this framework, your paperwork alone can take up to five hours per week. Traveling is also a C requirement. It must be done, but it isn’t vital to your job’s success.
  4. Get rid of the D activities: D stands for delete, delay, delegate or drop. D activities include casual web surfing, handling tasks that should be delegated and reading email newsletters. Some tasks are technological time hogs — fixing a photocopier jam, waiting for software to load or accessing the help desk. Beware of D activities. This miscellaneous time can take up as much as 5 percent of the week.
FYIDid you know
The ABCD method is just one task management model. Other ways to boost productivity include practicing the Pomodoro technique, implementing the "eat the frog" method and using Kanban boards.

2. Plan your week based on your prioritized tasks.

Plan your week carefully to ensure you attack your top priorities first. Experts advise spending no more than 2.5 hours weekly — 10 sessions of 15 minutes each — on general planning. More time will likely yield little impact on results.

Here’s how to plan your week:

  1. Create a list of activities each day: List things to do and indicate A, B and C priorities. Write your list in your time planner, jot it down on a Post-it note or use a productivity or organizational mobile app. Check off the items you’ve completed.
  2. Be specific about what you must do: When planning your day, don’t just say, “I’ll work on the budget,” or “I’ll work on my recruiting plan.” Be specific by listing activities you can complete today. For example, you may not be able to complete your budget today, but you can set up a salary spreadsheet. You can’t recruit a new employee today, but you can update the job profile or write interview questions.
  3. Block your time: Schedule time for your A priorities first. Plan to do them when you’re at your peak and when interruptions are least likely to occur. Set an appointment in your planner and allocate that time for high-priority activities. Then, if someone asks you to meet during that time, say, “Sorry, I have an appointment.” No one will ask who you’re meeting. It’s an appointment with yourself.
  4. Delegate tasks: If you think you’re the only person who knows how to do a specific task, you’re probably mistaken and should delegate more. If you’re worried that someone isn’t quite ready for a new task, let them prove you wrong. Delegate the objective and the standards to be met and ask the person what they need to start. If they need help, they’ll let you know.
  5. Put a value on your time: People say that time is money, but for many, it isn’t. They spend time “saving” money by driving across town to pay a dollar less for gas. Meanwhile, successful people spend money to save time. They’ll hire others to do the things they don’t like or aren’t good at. They don’t worry about spending a dollar if it will save them an hour.
TipBottom line
If you've delegated tasks to workers outside the office, use digital tools to manage your remote work plan, such as employee monitoring software with performance management tools. Read our BambooHR review to learn about one excellent example.

Task management tools for entrepreneurs

Digital and mobile task-management tools help small business owners manage their time and stay on track. Here are a few of our favorites.

Notion

Forrest McCall, owner of the entrepreneurship blog Don’t Work Another Day, uses Notion to create a prioritized task list that includes the highest and lowest return on investment. “If I manage to complete all of the most important tasks, I move on to the lower-return tasks, making it easy to manage and keep up with,” McCall explained.

Notion is available for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows. It has a free offering and paid options with additional features. Visit Notion online for more information.

Google Docs

Task management doesn’t have to be complicated. Felipe Zambrano, vice president of Avatrade Marketplace, uses bullet points on a Google Doc and organizes them according to priority.

“You have to categorize each task as [to] how urgent it is and also the level of impact,” Zambrano advised. “The idea is to focus on things that create a large impact and push aside those which aren’t urgent and don’t make a big improvement to your organization.”

You can use Google Docs for free via a web browser or download it as an iOS or Android mobile app.

Productboard

Productboard helps businesses of all sizes determine clients’ wants and establish market priorities. Kenny Kline, president and financial lead of BarBend (recently acquired by Pillar4 Media), said it’s popular among product managers and road mappers because it “provides a powerful prioritization matrix for displaying the value/effort trade-off across all objective features.”

Productboard is a browser-based platform with subscription tiers that range from free to $59 monthly. Visit the Productboard website for more information.

Todoist

Todoist is a popular to-do list app that’s been around for a while and continues to provide value. Mark Osborne, director of Prestige Roof Lanterns, appreciates functions like organizing tasks by date and color-coding them. “Although the free edition has fewer capabilities, it is extremely well designed and user-friendly,” Osborne noted.

Todoist is available as an iOS or Android app. It has a free tier and more robust options for $4 and $6 per monthly user. The Todoist website has more information.

Teamwork.com

Entrepreneurs typically generate numerous tasks throughout the day. There is always a new idea to write down, another person to contact and a project that must change direction. Teamwork.com helps leaders efficiently manage in-office and remote teams and get everything accomplished. Each worker can view a My Work tab that sorts and ranks essential tasks, so a team is never left wondering what to do while their entrepreneurial leader is out conquering the world.

You can use Teamwork.com on a desktop or via iOS and Android apps. Options range from free to $19.99 per monthly user. Learn more on the Teamwork.com website.

Why entrepreneurs should prioritize tasks

Entrepreneurs are responsible for myriad aspects of starting a business, such as creating a business plan, writing a marketing plan, managing finances and creating a successful hiring process. If you’re overwhelmed, you’re more likely to overlook critical tasks and miss deadlines. Our experts shared several crucial reasons why prioritizing tasks benefits entrepreneurs:

  • Prioritizing tasks maximizes productivity: “As an entrepreneur, more than any other role, you have limited time to accomplish a never-ending list of tasks and to-dos,” Zambrano noted. “As a result, it’s critical to organize your time to be the most effective and move your company faster.”
  • Prioritizing tasks ensures a more consistent return on investment (ROI): “You only have so much time during your day to get things done,” McCall cautioned. “By wasting time on tasks that do not yield results in growth for your business, you might find your business stagnant. By prioritizing tasks with the highest return on investment, your business can see tremendous growth.”
  • Prioritizing tasks encourages a healthy work-life balance: For the health of their business — and their personal well-being — entrepreneurs must get a handle on what needs to get done when it needs to happen and to whom they can delegate. It’s vital to delegate daily tasks that are time-consuming or that you don’t enjoy. Offloading these tasks can help you focus on big ideas to propel your business forward.

Julie Thompson and Mark Ellwood contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

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Jennifer Post, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
Jennifer Post brings a decade of expertise to her role as a trusted advisor for small business owners. With a strong foundation in marketing, funding, human resources and more, she teaches entrepreneurs about the software and tools necessary for launching and scaling successful ventures. From email marketing platforms to CRM systems, she ensures businesses have the technological edge they need to thrive while also sharing best practices for everyday operations. Post's recent focus on risk management and insurance underscores her commitment to equipping business owners with the services needed to safeguard their businesses for long-term success. Her advice has appeared in Fundera, The Motley Fool and HowStuffWorks.
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