Graph of challenges

No one knows how to set priorities for themselves (and we’re not getting better)

I recently surveyed over 100 business owners about how their business and job changes as they gain experience and their business grows. The full report is going to take me a while to collate and write, but the answers to one question stuck out at me. 

Graph of challenges
Yes, I screwed up and listed “Lack of interests outside business” twice.

When asked, “What would you consider to be your biggest personal challenge?” The most frequent answer is “Setting my own priorities/Time Management”. That wasn’t so surprising; I see a lot of business owners who have trouble with that. What stuck out to me is that this was the top answer, no matter how I sliced the data. It was the top answer for new business owners, and for business owners with 10+ years of experience, for owners of businesses under $500k, and businesses over $5M. Across the board, we struggle with setting priorities and we don’t seem to get better at it. 

Why is it so hard to set priorities?

Complexity is not incremental, it’s exponential. Adding one more thing to a list of 10 things isn’t 10% harder, it’s 10X harder. All the things interact with all the other things… ~Jason Fried

  • How many projects are on your desk, or mind or to-do list right now? 
  • How many tools do you touch in a week?
  • How many relationships are you managing in your business?

I’m guessing the answer to all of these questions is, “Too many!”

The more we do, the harder it is to make progress on any one thing. The more we do, the more choices we have to make, the more we split our time into little bitty slices.

If you want to make it easier to set priorities, you have to do less.

That’s right; I said, “Do less.”

I’m talking to you about this not as someone who has it all figured out, but as a recovering “DO ALL THE THINGS!” addict myself. I’ve tried putting things to the side, or having a “parking lot” where I put projects that are “on hold.” 

That hasn’t worked for me. I’m still thinking about them, planning for when I can get them out, and start them. They are still in my brain.

The power of NO

“Optionality increases freedom, but decreases focus. When you have options, you can more easily switch to an alternative when things get difficult. This is optimal in matters of money, but suboptimal in matters of creativity. Be diversified financially, but “all in” creatively.” ~James Clear

To really simplify, I have to say, NO. I have to close doors so that those “options” are not open to me. I have to kill those ideas, projects, and improvements that seem like they’ll be great, but I don’t have time for now.

I’m more and more convinced that if your growth has slowed, you need to do less, sell fewer things, have fewer clients. Do less.

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