In life and business we are constantly confronted with the question “What do I do next?”
As entrepreneurs prioritization of our time determines success or failure.
Over the years I have used several matrices to help me decide where to focus my efforts. The most accomplished human beings all use a similar process though they don’t all put it down on paper.
It starts with identifying the options that are available.
This may be ideas for the overall direction or your business, priorities for the next month or quarter or finding the highest value projects.
The same process applies for relational, ministry, family, financial or civic goals.
Step 1: Brainstorming possibilities
There are many methods for generating ideas:
- Google searches
- following blogs and influencers
- keeping a log of your inspirations
- talking through your goals with friends or mentors
Whatever process you use the idea is to assemble a list of possible projects, actions or priorities. The key is that the ideas are:
- feasible – within your current abilities to perform
- defined – have enough clarity that you have a sense of the magnitude and potential
Step 2: Evaluation
The core of the exercise is making an assessment of each possibility to quantify relative effort, probability of success, potential benefit and potential risk.
|Write another book||High||Medium||Medium||Medium|
|Buy a website||Low||Medium||?||Medium|
|Create new advertising campaigns / Optimize existing||Low||High||Low||Low|
|Create a new product||Medium||High||Medium||Low|
Effort: This is an evaluation of how much time the project or direction will require relative to other options. I usually start with a chart like the one above and just give it a high, medium or low mark but it is often useful to quantify it by penciling in a quantity like 6 to 8 months, 40 to 60 hours, etc.
Success: Probability that the task will come to fruition and deliver the benefit you expect. As an entrepreneur I engage in many tasks that may or may not deliver results. It is obviously difficult to know that in advance but I make my best guess and go from there.
Benefit: You should have a very tangible benefit in mind. It may be monthly net profit, number of sales leads, number of visitors to a website, an increase in conversion rate or an improvement in your relationship with your wife. If you can quantify the benefit, you will want to make a second pass at the table and write in the amounts or quantities that are possible e.g. Additional monthly net income $2,500 to $4,000.
Risk: In chess, every move you make on the board leaves at least one square weaker than it was before the move. And so it is in life. Every step forward is a choice to emphasize something at the risk of de-emphasizing something else. If I spend three months away from my family writing my book, I introduce risk and harm to those relationships.
Step 3: Drawing Conclusions
If you force yourself to thoughtfully produce a table like the one above and hopefully take it to the next level of specificity, then you have disciplined yourself to think through the options.
Reflection is the point. There are an infinite number of projects you can embark on. But forcing yourself to think through the effort required, the probability of success and a realistic estimate of how much the project will deliver to the bottom line, will boost your effectiveness dramatically.
Without this process we are much more likely to simply choose activities that:
- are easy
- we have done before
- are potentially high effort, low reward
- are beneficial but ignore important risks or negative impact to others
With this process we:
- increase our confidence in our choices (and thus or likelihood of success)
- increase the probability that we will achieve maximum benefit for minimum effort at minimum risk
Step 4: Planning
Once you have chosen a project or direction to take, the next step is to flesh it out with some good old fashioned planning.
Outlining the tasks and resources required for your chosen activity will clarify your assessment of the effort, risk, potential benefit and probability of success. After some high level planning you may well discover that your initial evaluation was significantly off the mark.
Using a sound process to prioritize your ideas can be a game changer in your life and business.
If you feel like you don’t have any good ideas or you can’t accurately evaluate the ideas you have, you need to seek out a trusted advisor or mentor. A one-time coffee or consultation could be enough or you might need to meet with a number of people and do more reading and research.
Opportunity is abundant! Choose well.