Ben Blomerley 09 Feb 2018

How to break the to-do list deadlock

One of our core beliefs at MOHARA is that founders should be released to focus on what they excel at. The reason they started the business in the first place. Time and time again we see talented founders bogged down in tasks that don’t make best use of their skills. Think about how many founders have stopped focusing on the sales or industry expertise that convinced them of doing something great in the first place? The distraction of getting the book-keeping sorted or simple processing tasks eat up their time instead.

We use a simple two by two box model for this, that we ask founders (and ourselves) to explore, a nice subtle twist on the classic Eisenhower Matrix. We have found it provides perspective, which in turn can help break deadlocks. There’s a host of books and articles more deeply concerned with productivity (and why not check some out – Deep Work or The One Thing). Consider this though, as a useful tool for a quick health check.

How to break to-do list deadlock - Venture

So, how does it work?

Look at the tasks that you have in front of you and then plot them on the table. We label Axis 1 “Easy” and “Difficult”. Having run this with a range of our Ventures, this is more or less digestible shorthand for ‘commodotised’ and ‘specialist’.

Axis 2 is ‘Boring’ or ‘Satisfying’. Admittedly something could be boring and satisfying, but we make the assumption that something that pushes your business forward is something you find satisfying, and therefore not boring.

So where does this leave us?

    • Easy and boring: Processing your receipts into Xero or spending half an hour tidying a spreadsheet. Basic tasks that need doing. They are necessary but do they really make a meaningful difference? You’ve got to get these out of your routine as soon as possible. Outsource the tasks. They are easy to do, easy to explain and provide little value. Get them off your plate.
    • Easy and satisfying:  Of course you’d love to do this. You’re really good at them, they’re easy and you see the progress. But who else would benefit from this experience? It’s easy and therefore needs little training. Start looking at activities that are both easy and satisfying as opportunities for training or inspiring people you’re looking to bring through the business.
    • Difficult but satisfying: This is where you need to be spending as much of your time as possible. If you are not the best person in your business – better yet one of the best in your industry – at these tasks, then you need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you are the best, and you’re not spending your time there, then you definitely need to ask yourself why that is and adjust accordingly.
    • Difficult and boring: Welcome to the death of start-ups. These boring but difficult tasks aren’t what will really drive your business forward, but you can’t ignore them forever. Something that’s boring and difficult is hard to hand over, or you may think it’s easier to just do it yourself. This needs to stop.

    Difficult but boring? That’s what will kill you

    These tasks can be the death of start-ups because they are the hardest ones to find a way through. Splitting the task up into easier, palatable chunks is one way. Another way is to make it more challenging – Incentivise completing the tasks. What about some gamification to challenge yourself or others? Assigning tasks roughly to these criteria can help you see different ways to approach and accomplish them.

    It’s only 4 categories, but gaining some perspective on the work in front of you might unblock your workflow or invigorate members of your team.  With any luck you can rid yourself of a few of those niggling jobs and if you do – it’s probably five minutes well spent.

    What do you think? What does your to-do list look like and could it benefit from some prioritising? Do you have any tricks for increasing productivity and aligning your day?