Not long ago, I had dinner with a promising entrepreneur. We discussed his startup, and I offered plenty of advice.

I hope he chooses to follow one particular suggestion: ruthless prioritization.

No matter who you are, you can't do more than three things well - let alone recall more than three things--at any one time. Remember the child's game Whisper Down the Lane, also known as Telephone? There would be eight to 10 items initially that participants had to remember and pass along to the next person in line. Invariably, only three items made it to the end.

Pick three things in your business to focus on now, and don't worry about anything else. Ignore the other stuff or delegate it someone else.

It's easy to preach this advice. That's why I also have to practice it--and you should, too.

Why ruthless prioritization is crucial for every entrepreneur

Have you ever heard the expression "jack of all trades, master of none"? You definitely don't want to be Jack. Don't believe me? Here's what Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told Inc. a year ago:

"I think the most important thing we've learned as we've grown is that we have to prioritize. We talk about it as ruthless prioritization. And by that what we mean is only do the very best of the ideas. Lots of times you have very good ideas. But they're not as good as the most important thing you could be doing. And you have to make the hard choices."

In other words, you must be ruthless in saying "no" to things that don't mesh with whatever your overriding goals are in that moment.

Consider whether something is a distraction or an opportunity. More often than not, the distractions are going to far outweigh the opportunities. And even when it comes to opportunities, you're likely to find many of them are only going to offer marginal benefits not worth your time or energy.

All that means is that you're going to have to pick and choose and remember that what you say "no" to is more important that what you say "yes" to.

How to ruthlessly prioritize

There have been countless times over the years that I've felt overwhelmed. When I do, there are two exercises I count on.

The first one is to sit down and make a list of everything I am working on, and then I force myself to ask "if I can only do three of these what are the most important?"  It's not easy, because you are scared of something that you are going to miss--but it's critical for success.  Once you get over the fear, you clear your mind.

The second exercise is to push hard to delegate. If I had to give eighty percent of this work to somebody else and I had no choice but to do it, what would I give away? Then, I have to do it and let go.

Every 90 to 180 days, take a step back to evaluate your priorities and revise them as necessary. Things change, so it's not a failure to make changes as needed.

Emergencies and other unforeseen things may occur that require you to stray from the plan. That's fine. You always need to put out the fires before returning to the meat and potatoes issues.

When you do return to the plan, a re-evaluation is a must, even if it's been less than 90 days since your last evaluation. In fact, any time the game changes for you, think about re-prioritizing.

Published on: Jul 20, 2018
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