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Ruthlessly Prioritising

Being able to effectively prioritise is a skill that is called upon time and time again as a founder. It’s our job to keep the ship on course and make sure that we’re focusing on the right things.

Startups rarely die of idea starvation; they’re more likely to die from idea gluttony.

Keith Rabois, in his talk for the ‘How to Start a Startup’ course, explains how founders are like editors; consistently needing to trim the fat to get to the core activities.
You have to learn to get comfortable with saying ‘no’, a lot. Time is not luxury that founders have and being able to squeeze the most from the time available is crucial. There is a big difference between being busy, being productive, and being effective.

It’s not just a paradox of which ideas to pursue, and which to not. There are many more choices to be made, each with a potential opportunity cost:

Which meetings to take and which to pass on. Which events to attend. What work should be done first. Or, what work just shouldn’t be done at all.

Prioritising is hard. I for one suffer from FOMO – the ‘what if’ fear that I might be missing out on something else, whilst doing what I’m currently doing.

Zealify as a team likes to be involved with, and a supporter, of the community we are apart of. We also believe in serendipity and above all we like to help people out where possible. Unfortunately, there are times that keeping our heads down and focusing is what’s right for our startup. When we have to prioritise ourselves at the expense of others, that doesn’t come easy. Finding time to give back and be active, is hard to come by.

Sometimes, there is an easy decision; one activity has a clear ROI over another. Other times, it’s not so clear cut if the decision is between activities that have an impact today, vs those that sow seeds for the future; sometimes the potential return won’t come to fruition for a long time. Sometimes the decision is driven by emotion.

With choosing priorities comes sacrifice.

Unfortunately, there are many times that the startup has to take prescedent over any other commitments. This sometimes even includes family and friends, and that’s really tough. It’s not something I enjoy doing. Work life balance is most often not a luxury we can afford. For those times that I’m not present; I’m sorry.

Prioritising is the removal of distractions. Distractions kill startups. Distractions make you (the startup) slow. Being slow means you run out of cash. It’s no coincidence that where you’re based and who you surround yourself with are huge factors influencing your chances of success.

It’s a skill that’s necessary, but never easy. It’s one I’m still very much learning.

PS. I’m aware that this skill is necessary for success in any high performing position in any industry. Obviously startups is the context in which I have experience with.

How do you effectively prioritise? Do you find it easy, or hard? How do you balance the trade-offs? Let me know in the comments.