June 21, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Founders, separating the urgent from the important

One of the most important jobs of the founder of a startup (well, any business) is what I call the process of separating the Merely urgent of what is truly important. Which is a statement that might require a bit of explanation. So in this column I want to talk about what I mean by that and why it's important.

First, let me point out that the wording is intentional. I phrase it that way for a couple of reasons. The first is to point out that Urgent and Important In fact, they are not synonyms. The second reason is to point out that addressing the things that really matter in the life of a company and the life of its founder are often pushed aside to address the day-to-day issues that keep coming up. and that must be addressed in a timely manner.

Because of the constant parade of urgent items on their “to do” lists, founders may feel like they aren't keeping up, that they aren't moving their business forward, or, worse yet, that the business is failing altogether. By the time things reach this stage, it is often past the time when the real problem should have been identified and addressed.

The problem, in general, is that no attempt has been made to distinguish between issues that are Truly important of those who are just urgent.

This is because separating issues in this way is not a natural way of thinking. When an issue is urgent, by definition it has become a priority. The issue must be addressed because it must be addressed. Now. Therefore, as a founder, pressing problems easily dominate his days and his “shared mind.” Since they can't (or can no longer) be ignored, they become the topics you spend your time on. This seems like a good way to budget your time. In fact, it is not.

That in itself is a problem because finding effective ways to budget your time is one of the first hurdles new founders face as they grow their companies.

Simply put, many founders start out believing that their time and attention are, indeed, an infinite resource. By this I don't mean its infinite hours in a day. What I really mean is that founder time is the only amount over which an early-stage founder truly feels like he has complete control.

Virtually all external resources – particularly financial resources – are tightly restricted, and those limitations are outside the control of the founder. The only thing they feel they can always find more of is their own time. Until they can't take it anymore.

Usually this process occurs gradually. I know it's happened when founders start saying they're tired, stressed, or feel like there's too much to do. They will often say that they hope things will improve soon, once they've passed the next round of funding, the next technical milestone, or the next conference. It almost never gets better. Unless they address the issue.

It is at this point that I suggest to many founders that they really need “professional help.” By this I don't mean counseling. What I mean is that they need to find someone detailed and organized who can help them with the task of separating the Merely Urgent of the Truly Important.

Because many of the pressing issues that founders tend to grapple with don't require their particular skills, experience, or judgment (or, frankly, even their level of authority) to address. Many of these tasks are repetitive or even routine and typically need to be completed with care and attention to detail, but they do not need to be completed by the founder himself.

Honestly, the problem is that many founders consider these tasks to be, well, chores. Take for example completing payroll, this is a task that must be done and it must be done on time, it requires careful attention to ensure it is done correctly, but it does not require high level decision making. Past a certain point, it's the wrong job for founders to do.

But because many founders don't enjoy jobs like this, and because other people depend on them being completed on time, founders will, at least initially, be reluctant to “offload” them to someone else. They feel like this would be an imposition and since their time is something they always have enough of, they should go ahead and do those nasty little jobs themselves. Irritating and time-consuming jobs instead of imposing them on someone else.

When they do this, they are actually not doing them any favors. Everyone around them, their employees, their investors and even their clients, considers the founder's time to be the most valuable thing they can have. has spend. Spending that valuable resource on work that could be done by someone else doesn't really help anyone, least of all the founder.

The other reality that founders must accept is that there are many people in the world who not only enjoy the jobs that the founder doesn't like, but also have the skills and experience to be much better at them than the founder sometime it would be. .

Believe me, one of the great joys of being a founder is finding people to work with who are really good at the jobs you don't like doing. But you have to realize that truth in order to enjoy it.

However, to be fair, hiring someone to handle the urgent but routine part of the load is only part of the solution to this problem. In the next column we'll look at some other techniques for separating the merely urgent from the truly important so you can keep your focus where it needs to be.

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