As a startup founder, it’s easy to prioritize the wrong things

If there’s one thing that is consistently true across all startups in every industry (IMHO), it’s the fact that as a founder, you won’t be able to get everything done that you want to each day. Sure, you can read books about time management, use a nifty app to manage your to-do list, or schedule out every hour of your day…even still, there is honestly just too much to do and too little time.

When we first started our company, I was confident that with good time management skills I could get everything done that needed to be done in a given day. Six years later I can tell you, that just isn’t possible, instead what you have to learn is how to prioritize the most important things to get done each day, and focus on those things.

Here’s the kicker. Some of the least important things can be checked off your list faster and make you feel like you’re getting a lot done. The problem is, getting a lot done but missing what really deserves your attention means you’ll likely keep falling behind finishing the things that really matter.

So I thought it would be interesting to put together a list of things either I have prioritized myself or seen other founders prioritize that really shouldn’t be a priority. 

Things that aren’t as high of a priority as you think:

  • Posting on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram
  • Coffee meetings (with non-customers)
  • Startup conferences/events (caveat – if you sell to startups then this could be a priority if you think you can close deals because of it)
  • Testing out new tools to help you stay organized
  • Updating your financial model (still important but not a top priority)
  • Writing investor updates (also important but shouldn’t be prioritized over customers)
  • Getting to Inbox Zero (honestly – this can be a huge waste of your time)
  • Giving advice to other founders (this is a great thing to do but don’t prioritize it above important things for your startup)
  • Going to relevant MeetUp groups
  • Applying for startup awards
  • Attending startup award events
  • Meeting with advisors (important, but not more important than getting something critical done for a customer or prospect)
  • Networking “Happy Hours” 
  • VC Events (one of your VC firms might hold cool events for their founders. This is awesome and you should go, but don’t prioritize it over things that really matter to your business)
  • Anything related to accounting (accounting is incredibly important but can take up a lot of time, don’t prioritize it over something that will bring money into your company)
  • Reading startup blogs (like this one)

So what is a real priority? 

Over the years I’ve learned to prioritize current customers customers, prospective customers, product, and our team. I would always rather prioritize getting back to a customer or a prospective customer than writing an investor update or having a coffee meeting with someone I think is interesting. I also prioritize anything I can do to help our team, whether it’s talking about a product issue our engineers are running into or helping a team member who’s having a hard time.

In short – your startup should be doing everything it can to make great products, keep customers happy,  keep bringing on happy customers, and keeping your team running like a finely tuned machine. Yes, you should be writing investor updates, finding tools tool to help you stay organized, winning cool startup awards, and updating your financial model…but don’t do any of these things if you have mission critical tasks related to customers, product, or team.

It can be easy to get addicted to checking things off a to-do list, and I get it, it feels good to end a day and see that you checked everything off. In the early days, I felt a sense of great satisfaction when I could check everything off my to-do list. Now, I could care less if I check everything off my to-do list, what I care about is prioritizing correctly and getting the stuff that matters, done, the other stuff can wait.

  1. Great list. Also, one to add, and this is what all new people are guilty of… “Spending too much time perfecting the logo”… I think everyone has been guilty of this because I see it with so many people starting sites, and it is a fun process, until it goes on forever. I used to always have hangups about logos until I learned to just let go – nobody ever came to my site because of the logo.

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