The simple rule for start-up survival is to focus on the 80/20 rule-the 20% of tasks that generate 80% of the benefit.
My first year at business school, I thought my professors were trying to kill me. Each night, I had more reading and homework than could possibly get done in one evening even if I stayed up all night. I quickly realized that one of the key lessons of survival was prioritization--figuring out what portion of the work was most important and what just was not going to get done.
I remember one night, working on a term paper with a group of students. We had worked hard on the paper and we all thought it was in good shape. We had other work to complete that night and were not anxious to pull an all-nighter so we were ready to move on. One of the team members, however, felt it was not "A" material and wanted to keep working on it. I remember thinking even back then that this guy did not "get it."
My life in start-ups has been the same experience as business school. To survive and flourish, you have to quickly figure out what is "important" and what is "noise." You can't do it all...
Both at my former company TripAdvisor as well as my current company Car Gurus, we have a saying: follow the 80/20 rule, technically known as the Pareto principle. The Pareto principle tells us that 20 percent of the inputs account for 80 percent of the results. You have to cut through the noise, figure out what tasks represent the 20 percent with the greatest leverage and focus on those tasks. Find those projects that make a big impact and ignore EVERYTHING else.
Is it difficult to step away from fire drills and turn away from the mounting volume in your inbox? Absolutely. But if you don't, your days--and your team's days--will slip away without having addressed the projects that will really drive your business.
The sooner you figure out how to apply the 80/20 rule and run with it, the better off you'll be. There are 100 things you can focus on each day, and it's up to you to parse the data, decide what projects or features have the greatest leverage and get the product to market as fast as you can.
LANGLEY STEINERT is founder and CEO of CarGurus.com, one of the most frequented auto research and shopping websites. Steinert was previously chairman and co-founder of TripAdvisor, the world's largest travel-information website. @langleysteinert