The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Getting Things Done

June 4, 2013


Starting your own company is difficult, there’s no doubt about that. But the more we small business owners overcomplicate our own tasks and issues, the less likely it is that we will reach our goals. Simplifying your daily tasks, long-term goals, and overall business ethics might be the answer to the question “How am I going to get all of this done?”

Determine Your Big Rocks

When there’s too much work to be done, overwhelming yourself with a long to-do list is the worst (and most unproductive) thing you can do. Take a moment to recognize what your business’s big rocks are. A term coined by Steven Covey and introduced to me by Leo Babauta, “big rocks” are major tasks you don’t want but need to accomplish by the end of the workweek. Who are your biggest clients or customers? What are the most difficult or time-consuming projects that need to be completed? Most importantly, step back and decide what is most important to you. Don’t make a laundry list of tasks to be done; there shouldn’t be more than a handful. The next step? Get those things done first.

Take your big rock list, post it where you can see it and won’t forget about it, and work until they are all cleared off. Ask your employees (if you have them) to do the same. Review them together. Celebrate their completion together. It might seem like a basic action, but when you pick what is most important to your success, then work solely on those few tasks, your efficiency improves greatly. In the end, that’s the diet and exercise of productivity. It’s the only thing that works.

Build Margin

While you’re attacking those big rocks, it is just as vital to your business (and health) to create margin for yourself and employees. According to author Richard Swenson, margin is the room around the edges. It gives you some flexibility for the things you love and the amazing opportunities that appear without warning.

To help create margin and increase productivity, reflect on not just the big rocks at hand, but all of your projects and client tasks. Think about the longevity of your relationship with each client.  Factor in the enjoyment you receive from working with each and every client. What percentage of your bottom line do they contribute? Gauging all of these factors makes it easier for you to prioritize tasks.

Create deadlines for important tasks. Make the most time-intensive and frustrating tasks part of your big rock group, breaking them up into smaller chunks with deadlines. Creating deadlines allows you to have a more effective workflow. A better workflow gives you more time for creative pursuits, which are invaluable in a small business industry that thrives on imagination.

Bring an Outsider to the Inside

It’s often hard to read the label when you’re on the inside of the bottle. When you’re struggling to maintain an efficient work environment and your to-do list is growing by bounding leaps, it may be time to consider bringing in a new team member or temporary help. A fresh set of eyes might determine what issues your company is experiencing — ones that you don’t see because you’re deep in the trenches of work. Sometimes a leap of faith is required to hire new staff, even someone working part-time. But increased efficiency in workflow will pay for itself in the end.

Bringing in someone who can sort, triage, and organize for you is beneficial, especially if you are the CEO or hold a similar position — particularly if you are the creative mind in your organization. You must protect your energy, sense of play, and margin. The primary point of contact for your business should have these organizational skills. Hiring someone to deal with something as simple as a company email account can streamline your work. A small act of simplification can benefit the workflow of the entire business.

Start at the End

When creating a small business, you should start with its end in mind. Having a solid idea of the framework, purpose, and values of your organization, along with your long-term goals, makes it much easier to make decisions today.  Each decision, big or small, must be made with the purpose and values of your organization in mind.

Devise a plan — whether it’s a two-year plan or a 20-year plan — and make all choices with it in mind. When you add new employees, take on new clients, or create a new branch, do it so you can better achieve a goal. Don’t complicate it; do what you need to do now so tomorrow is successful.

Planning, structuring, and simplifying your workdays (and workweeks) makes your problems seem much smaller. Identifying your big rocks enables you to determine what to get done first, and when it comes time to do that work, it can feel freeing. Allow yourself to get your important tasks done, and it will give you and your business an open and exciting opportunity to grow.

 Tim Miles is the owner of The Imagination Advisory Group, a communication firm that advises owner-operated companies. He wrote a bestselling book about life and how we live it — and work and how we work it — called “Good Company.” Follow Tim’s thoughts on his daily blog, The Daily Blur.  This article was written with the assistance of Lynn Peisker, the Executive Sister and Chief Plate Spinner at the Immagination Advisory Group.


about the author

This is a guest post for the FreshBooks blog. FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.