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How to Set Priorities and Stick to Them

Early-stage founders have a million things to do. They probably feel like they could work 24 hours a day and still not accomplish everything.

That’s why it’s so important to set priorities based on which tasks will have the most benefit to the business.

“With founders, an easy pattern to get into is becoming a responder to your business,” said Dr. Julie Gurner, founder of executive performance coaching firm Gurner Consulting. “You just become a reactor, so everything that comes in, you feel compelled to respond to it. And then, by the time you look at the clock, the day is over and you’re trying to fit things into the cracks.”

In this scenario, even though you feel like you’re doing a million things, you won’t see forward momentum. How can you break the cycle? Shift your mindset from being a responder to being the driver of your company.

Gurner shared more of her advice on how to set priorities in a conversation with York IE CMO Adam Coughlin. Here are some more takeaways from that discussion:

Stick to Your Priorities

You have to lay out some really important priorities, because there will always be fires to put out — especially in early- and growth-stage startups. Identify the handful of tasks that you do to uniquely affect your company’s bottom line or growth.

“The fires will never stop, so you have to make sure that you’re carving out time to push the business forward so that you don’t get stuck,” Gurner said.

Once you’ve set priorities, put aside an hour or two of your time every day — where you’re not available for meetings and you’re not responding to Slack messages — to make those things happen.

Block off that time on your calendar and hold true to it. It may sound ruthless, but people always try to put time on your calendar and say, “this is really important,” so you need to put a hard boundary around that time.

Taking this approach further, you may want to structure your weekly calendar in a similar fashion. Maybe on Monday you devote some time to partnership calls, on Tuesday you’re getting in touch with your most important vendors, etc.

By doing something small but impactful every single day, you’re going to notice results at the end of the week, and those will compound over the months ahead. And you’re not going to miss those two hours a day you would have spent putting out fires.

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