How to prioritise your startup tasks

Running a startup is  a venture that requires a huge amount of energy and organisation - and if you're the only one, it can feel overwhelming. Dealing with the day-to-day running can quickly burn you out, and it's easy to get caught up on small things that distract you from the bigger picture. Learning how to delegate and prioritise, then, is a vital skill for all entrepreneurs.

Hazel Merlino is the founder of Rainbow Factory,  a Leeds-based storybook-themed children's play centre that engages the imagination and encourages children to craft, play, and enter into their favourite fairytales. She's also one of our Virgin StartUp ambassadors. Here's why she believes delegating and prioritising are crucial for small businesses.

If I knew what I would have to go through to get where I am today, would I have set up my own business… probably not. But that’s not because I don’t love what I’m doing - it’s because I would never have thought I would have been able to accomplish the many tasks, hurdles and challenges set before me! So, what is it exactly that I thought I would have never achieved?

The many days of rollercoaster rides - no, I love rollercoasters. A minefield - well, that keeps the adrenaline going. The unknown - well, some days that can be challenging, but I always embrace the unknown and with that, change. I can manage all of those, just about. But what I find so very difficult is juggling the MANY, many different balls that somehow take me from one pillar to the next post without me actually feeling like I’ve finished or accomplished anything.

So, how do I deal with it? Well the many years of working in media and events help for sure, but what I’ve really had to learn is prioritising.

Now that may seem like a simple word to you, and one that you think you’ve cracked. But then when you’re wearing all the business hats, as you have to as an entrepreneur - the accountant, the MD, HR, department manager, marketing, operations, administration... the list goes on. You may as well be a popcorn-making machine, firing off different decisions in different directions continuously.

But seriously, there is only one way, and that is to think of your priorities like a bed of plants – they all need watering but some need more nurturing than others.

Prioritising for me has changed from putting a list together and ticking them off one by one, to learning how to equally manage my time from one plant to another, and learning how not to fret if I have to nurture one more than the other.

It’s learning how to be a successful gardener in business! It’s learning that sometimes it depends on the seasons where your time is best spent. In winter the grass doesn’t need cutting… but the tulips, hydrangeas and perennials need planting ready for the next season. Tree surgery is crucial, not to mention the greenhouse that needs tending to and the potholes created by snow need filling. There is always something new to contend with, but its also understanding that there is no point planting seeds before they need planting, that trees are best nurtured in autumn, winter or spring, but not summer. The business has to make money. And your time has to reflect that.

This leads me on to the next point: understanding that sometimes things have to wait. The tree will not die because you didn’t prune it one day. It might look a little upset, but that’s business, it can wait. In saying this, people are more likely to wait if they have an honest time expectation - make sure that you are always honest with yourself in terms of when you can realistically tend to their need.

Your time is so precious, everything depends on it, but it doesn’t mean you can’t leave procedures in place that should you not be able to water it that day. Many gardeners leave timed water sprinklers in place – why can’t you do the same? If you can’t do it, pass the responsibility on. You have to learn to let go. Find that one person you can trust to do not just a good, but GREAT job and pay them a salary to reflect your trust – pay them before you pay yourself.

We unfortunately now live in a society that wants, demands and expects everything immediately – this largely has to do with technology. But you can’t be in 100 places at once, you can’t be that popcorn-making machine. You can only do your best, and as corny as that sounds, it’s the truth.

My five top tips for prioritising are:

  1. Understand that businesses have seasons, work out what they are and nurture the relevant areas that will provide for your business at the right time.
  2. Always think, what’s the worst that going to happen?! It’s not going to fail if you don’t tend to it there and then – people can wait, they will wait, but just give them an honest & realistic time expectation.
  3. Hire someone that you trust to act in your place and pay them to reflect that – pay them before you! This is crucial.
  4. Understand that a tick list will never work, rather a project sheet that lists all the things that are required of you (in seasonal order!), and then work through them as and when you can – don’t pressure yourself into thinking you have to do everything now, or you’ll never reach the end.
  5. Work smarter, not faster – the business survives through revenue. If one area of the business refuses to provide, nurture other avenues.

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