BY NICK SONNENBERG, FOUNDER, LEVERAGE @NICK_SONNENBERG
Do you ever feel like you have so many ideas bouncing around in your head that you can barely keep them straight? Do you often get excited about a new project, only to drop it a few days later for something even more exciting? Do you ever feel overwhelmed with everything that’s on your plate?
If so, you might be an entrepreneur. You also might have ADD, but that’s another topic entirely–and not necessarily a bad thing.
Entrepreneurs are known for chasing shiny objects. It’s a tough situation because, on the one hand, we often need to chase shiny objects to capitalize on opportunities to grow our businesses. On the other hand, if we’re constantly chasing shiny objects we might find ourselves with a dozen half-finished projects that aren’t making any money.
So, what’s the solution? You’ve got to prioritize. And for most of us, that’s easier said than done.
The Not Now List
Everyone focuses on to-do lists, but as Joe Polish–the wildly successful founder of Genius Network who has been called one of the most connected people in business–says, entrepreneurs should focus more on their not-to-do list. Rather than spreading yourself thin by chasing tons of different shiny objects, it makes far more sense to focus most of your time on a few high-yield projects.
Honing in on those can be difficult, and maintaining your focus on them over the long run is even more difficult. Joe recently unveiled a solution for this in his book, What’s In it For Them. The concept originates from the highly-successful financial author, David Bach, but Joe took it to the next level by turning it into an actionable tool he calls the “Not Now List.”
It involves asking yourself four simple questions:
- What are my biggest priorities right now?
- For things that are not current priorities, what ideas, opportunities, people, projects, and tasks are still worth tracking?
- If pursued and invested in, what value, impact, or result will those things create?
- Comparing your current priorities to the other list, what insights do you have?
I’d recommend doing this exercise any time you find a new shiny object competing for your attention, or even on a recurring basis. Maybe at the start of every week or month (depending on how easily distracted you are!).
I’d also recommend keeping track of your answers over time so that you can refer back to your previous priorities and compare them with what’s going on in your head at the moment.
Why it works
I like this exercise for the obvious reason that it helps me focus on what’s most important in my business. I’ll often come across some new idea that, at first glance, seems like it should take priority over everything else. But when I crunch the numbers and compare them to what my team and I are currently focused on, it’s not all that important.
However, there are plenty of things that are still worth keeping “on the back burner,” if you will. That’s why the second question is so great. I can keep track of these things or have my team keep track of them so I know they’re never going to be truly lost. I’ve had plenty of these back-burner ideas turn into profitable ventures later on.
One simple hack is to put these ideas, opportunities, people, or projects, into a knowledge base tool like Coda or Notion. You can create a section to hold these sorts of things, then review it while you’re doing this exercise.
I also like reviewing these ideas when I set goals with my team. I’ll ask everyone to review the list ahead of time and choose a few ideas that they think might be worth prioritizing. We can then discuss these as a group, and usually, we’ll add a few of them to our plate for the quarter or year ahead. That way, we can systematically work through these ideas without getting overwhelmed in the middle of a planning period.
Being able to prioritize your ideas is probably one of the best skills you can have as an entrepreneur. It will help you get the most return on your time, plus it will just make your life a whole lot easier. This exercise, along with some simple tools to organize your thoughts, is a great way to stay on track.
NOV 11, 2022
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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