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Must-Do, Need to Do, Nice to Do

Originally published
Originally published: 8/18/2022

The business climate around the world is complicated. For the past two and a half years, employers have struggled to fill positions and still do. Today owners face additional challenges including inflation, $5 gas, rising interest rates, political turmoil, the war in Ukraine, and much more.

Owning and leading a company has never been easy. And, as the old saying goes, “If it was easy anyone could do it.” But that’s just it, not everyone can. This job is only for unique individuals who can tolerate risk, are adaptable, communicate well, lead others, are organized, and much more.

Adopting a disciplined practical approach to managing your business that revolves around the leadership you provide, is essential. There is a principle referred to as the 80/20 rule, which, in its simplest form, states that 80 percent of your results are gained through 20 percent of your efforts. If you can identify the 20 percent of your task list that’s most important now, you can concentrate on areas that will bring you the greatest gains.

Highly Effective Task Management

Years ago, when we started HVACR Business, my good friend Ron Smith (who was an editorial advisory board member at the time) offered a suggestion. He recognized that I was struggling to manage all the different aspects of a start-up and gave me a straightforward method that would help me differentiate between those things that are urgent and need immediate attention versus those items that are important but don’t need immediate action. And it helped me.

Making use of this simple technique may help you more effectively lead your company in the coming months. Many managers find it difficult to communicate important business goals in real-time, so you may consider sending your finished outline to staff members.

What Are Must-Do Tasks?

Items in this circle are critical and need your attention today. The items in this circle are the key to running efficiently and profitably. Look at your financial statements every day. This group includes P&Ls, balance sheets, daily/weekly sales, accounts receivable, and your budget versus actual numbers. Also, make sure to bill after the job, don’t wait a week or more to bill customers or collect COD. Review accounts payable and your bank statements. Spend ninety minutes a day on your financial review, it really shouldn’t take you any longer than that. Additionally, you should be working on recruitment and retention every day. Long term this is the only solution for hiring and retaining talent for your business – it takes work.  

What Are Need-to-Do Tasks?

Items in this circle are on the short-term horizon and should be moved to your Must-Do circle within a week. Formally communicate weekly with your management team to review progress on “need to do” tasks.  (Ruth King has been kind enough to provide a weekly communications meeting template).Work on the marketing and advertising that drives phones to ring. Track what works and what does not. Where are your leads coming from? Are you profiting from the dollars you are spending? 

What Are Nice-to-Do Tasks?

Items on this list are long-range, at least a month out or more. Don’t fool yourself, if items aren’t critical, then they belong in this circle. Some of these tasks may include active referral programs, contests for enrolling maintenance plans, or other things on which you would like “buy-in” from team members, as well as visiting customers/field employees on the job. 

Effective Task Management Leads to Increased Productivity

This type of effective task management is not about adding more tasks, but instead, it is the practice of giving tasks value and ranking them from most critical to elective. If you can adopt this daily practice and encourage your employees to manage projects the same way, eventually your team will emerge more empowered and productive. Once you make a habit of ranking tasks, you can decide whether to assign the task a critical value and get it done immediately or as a study in Harvard Business Review says, decide instead to, “drop, delegate, or redesign” the project. Either way, this method of task management empowers you and your team and eliminates a company culture where panic and procrastination are the main motivating factors. 

Terry Tanker is the owner of JFT Properties LLC and publisher of HVACR Business magazine. He has more than 25 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming JFT Properties LLC in January 2006 he spent 20 years with a large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace. In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI NATE and ABMA.

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