Last Saturday I attended the BYU vs Colorado State basketball game and came away with a lesson I hadn’t anticipated. When the game first started, things seemed pretty even matched and you’d have had a hard time seeing significant differences between the teams.
They were both executing pretty well and the score was close. Over time, however BYU pulled away so that by half-time they were a dozen or more points ahead and ended the game with BYU ahead 91-47. BYU won because they were executing well as a team and playing good ball. Over time BYU’s small wins compounded to result in resounding defeat.
I think the same thing’s true in business. Watch any set of startups in their early stage and you might not see huge differences–but they’re there. There’s one or two that are executing better and over time, that difference will compound.
Steven Covery talks about “urgent” vs “important” tasks. We see those all the time in business. Urgent tasks, like raising money, often get done at the expense of important tasks, like meeting with customers. On the tech side, we spend time getting new machines configured in the data center or setting up a mail server, rather than adding new features to the product. Over time, some companies are getting the important things done and others aren’t. Guess who succeeds.
The problem is that you can’t simple say “I’ll ignore the urgent tasks.” They’re urgent, after all. You won’t survive if you ignore urgent tasks, but you’ll never thrive until to get past them and move onto important tasks.
Getting past the urgent tasks means dispatching them as quickly and efficiently as possible. In other words, you have to embrace and fully attend to urgent tasks in order to keep them from eating you up. That’s contrarian, but it’s true. Much of this series has been focused on exactly those kinds of issues. Here are a few things we’ve learned:
- Automate everything you can. This is one important task that you can do that will help slay the merely urgent ones. There’s never been a greater set of tools for automating the mundane tasks of administering high-tech products. Kynetx went two years without a fulltime sysadmin and we spent only a few hours per week making all the IT work. An additional benefit of automation is that tasks not only get done, but they get done consistently, improving uptime and reliability. That’s a huge win.
- Outsource everything you can. There are all sorts of tasks that you can just give to someone else and largely forget about. This includes, PR, HR, payroll, travel, finance, email, servers, storage, and so on. Sometimes “outsource” means hiring part-time consultants (like PR or HR specialists) and other times it means using a Web service (like GMail or TripIt). Most urgent tasks can be handled this way. Don’t spend your time doing something that isn’t core to the business.
- Take care of finances now.
We hired a part-time CFO early on for strategic advice, but neglected the books until later. Once we got them set up it was like someone had switched on the lights. Next time, I’ll do it sooner. This entrepreneur.com slideshow provides more information on this. Having your books set up right and tracking your company’s financial health from the start is critical. The longer you take to get your books set up the hard it will be and then you’ll not have the information you need to make critical decisions.
Have the discipline to do urgent tasks “right” rather than just doing enough to get by. Whenever something urgent pops up, figure out how to accomplish the task in a way that ensures that you won’t have to do it again. That kind of execution is what will separate you from the competition over time. Your ability to spend just a little more time on what’s important each day will compound over time and lead to crushing victories in the end.