5 First Steps to Prioritizing Your Work

2011 | Sep 21 in Home Page News , Management , Leadership

By Larry Heiman, Business Development Coach

Nothing is more important in realizing your dreams than self-discipline.  Nothing. 

Commitment is meaningless without discipline. Vision is useless without discipline. 

Without discipline, all the systems, information, management plans, financial reports, databases, financial resources, and staff you may have at your disposal don't matter. 

You may have the best of intentions and the outward image of a successful business and still not have a successful business.  You may be working harder, longer, and more intensely than anyone else in your organization, but if you equate this with self-discipline, you’re deluding yourself. 

Because, as the owner of your company, you’re probably doing the wrong work. 

It was your vision – your dream – that started this company to begin with. Shouldn’t it be your vision that drives it forward?

It’s up to you, the leader, to determine the goals for the business and the strategy for how you will get there.  It’s not an easy role, and it takes discipline to stay with it – especially when there are lots of other things that you may feel more comfortable doing. 

It is absolutely essential that you embrace your role as owner, dreamer and “Chief Vision Officer” if you are to manifest something truly unique and special in the world.

“Fine,” you say, “but there are so many other critical things that demand my attention.”
No doubt.

You’re  probably the lead salesperson, the chief financial officer, general manager or field supervisor, and director of marketing.  What else?  Receptionist?  Customer service representative?  Buyer?  Installer?  Trainer? HR?  I.T.? 

Taking on all these roles may have been required in the beginning.  But there comes a point in the life of every business where, if it is going to grow and give you what you want, it is going to outstrip your capacity to do it all yourself.  In the beginning, you hope you’ll have more business than you could handle. When that becomes a reality, if you haven’t laid the groundwork, things will inevitably fall apart. 

You can’t always be the salesperson and still deliver on your promises.  You can’t always be the lead technician while you’re struggling to keep warm leads in the pipeline.  You can’t just focus on balancing these two activities while ignoring your financial management. Even if you were able to achieve a balance between these three critical pieces, you’ve run out of time to recruit, hire, and train people to cover everything else! 

It's About Balance

So, you need to find a balance between all the roles you have in your business.  You need to find a balance that works for you.  And that’s true whether you’re wearing only three hats in your business, or thirty.  To find that balance, to develop that self-discipline, you need to cultivate the ability to choose – to discriminate and prioritize.
But when you're bogged down in the day-to-day activities of running a business, prioritizing can be a struggle.  You may wake up Monday morning with a well-crafted list of priorities, and walk in the door to face a barrage of fresh demands for your attention.  It is a challenge – a real exercise in self-discipline – to not succumb to the shrill voices of immediate need.  And they are virtually impossible to resist if, in that moment, you lack the perspective to preserve the big picture. 

At E-Myth, we work with our clients to help them discover and understand their priorities as business leaders, and to more effectively identify the work they should be doing – work that gives them the greatest return for their efforts. 

5  First Steps to Prioritizing Your Work:

Here is an example of an assignment I give my Mastery clients to help them begin to find their ideal work balance:

1.    Start by tracking your time.  Write down what you do every minute of your workday. Be thorough.  Be accurate.  Do it in “real time.”  Don’t round up to the nearest five minutes.  Provide a brief description of the activity.  Track your time for at least a week.  You are gathering raw data, and the more the better.

2.    As you track your time, create categories for the things you do.  Come up with about 6 to 8 broad subject areas (Sales calls, Management, Training, Admin., Fulfillment, Finance, Personal, In-transit) that give you a broad picture of how your time is used.   

3.    After a week or two, analyze your data.  What are the numbers telling you?  What percentage of your time do you spend in each category?  How much of your time is devoted to simply maintaining the status quo – repeating routine tasks?  What is the work that you do that supports the greatest long-term, strategic value?  How much of your time is spent in activities that further your business goals in tangible ways? 

4.    Identify one routine category – or perhaps a collection of activities – that clearly should not be yours.  (By the third or fourth day of tracking your time, there is bound to be an assortment of activities that begin to embarrass you to even document!) 

5.    Make a plan to free yourself of those selected tasks. Make that hand-off a priority.  Pick a date for when you will have freed yourself of those functions.  Commit the time now to prepare for that transition and think about how you will reapportion your time more effectively when you have rescued yourself from that work.   

I frequently find with my clients that the mere act of doing the time logging changes their behavior dramatically.  This simple tool allows them to clearly see the assumptions they’re making and habits they’ve allowed to define their role.  They’re able to see how those assumptions have distorted their sense of self-value and clouded their vision for the company they desire.  In practical terms, these assumptions control their time, dictate their work, and keep them from creating the business they want and the life they desire.

Editor’s note:  We’ve described a no-cost, low-tech method of time-tracking to achieve increased insight into how you value your time.  We would love to hear about other methods, systems, or apps that have worked well for you in producing this same awareness – and changing your perspective.


  1. .Rebecca H. says:

    My favorite tool for time tracking is Toogl.com. It's free (there's a premium version) and its reporting function lets you analyze time thoroughly and download the reports either to a spreadsheet or as pdf files. I use it for billing, but I'm going to try it for your suggestion -- I think it'll work perfectly.

    Submitted Sep 21, 2011 11:00 AM

  2. .Derek L. says:

    Thanks for suggesting https://www.toggl.com/




    Submitted Sep 21, 2011 11:52 AM

  3. .Themba M. says:

    The book E-Myth Mastery explains this tool very well and it is working for me. Self discipline, as you correctly insist, is the key to making it work. Thank you for the great article.

    Submitted Sep 21, 2011 4:11 PM

  4. .Margaret W. says:

    I use the Timer function in QuickBooks (my accounting software) to do this.  It allows me to create my own categories and subcategories, so I've created e-Myth categories of Entrepreneurship, Management, Technical Work, and subcategories under each of these to describe the type of work. 

    You can also get standalone versions of the timer to distribute to everyone in your business.  I import timer files so that I can invoice clients and pay an hourly employee, but it also shows me how long people work on specific tasks.  That helps me to create more accurate estimates for new jobs and to see where we may need help.

    It's not perfect - it's hard to convince people to track ALL their time, rather than just the billable hours - but I'll keep working on it. 

    Submitted Sep 21, 2011 4:46 PM

  5. .Daniel S. says:

    It's Toggl.com, in case anyone was having trouble.

    Submitted Sep 21, 2011 8:33 PM

  6. .Howard T. says:

    This is exactly the problem I've been thinking about - how did you read my mind?

    I'm going to go back to basics and do a time log.

    Thanks for the toggl recommendation.

    Submitted Sep 22, 2011 3:39 AM

  7. .Tom B. says:

    It's funny, I can think back to numerous tasks of random BS I've done just to address the loudest voice. Saying no and being disciplined is huge!

    Submitted Sep 22, 2011 6:57 AM

  8. .David C. says:

    For those who are already working in Microsoft Outlook:


    I use a 2nd calendar (with 15 min scale) to track activities. I categorize activities with different colors for ‘Top priority’ (strategic work, etc.), ‘Should have been delegated’, and ‘Mandatory’ (only for things like eating and sleeping). I leave all other activities with default color.


    Also, I created a task with reminder to  log time. When it comes up, I log whatever I've done in the last half hour and snooze the reminder for a half hour.


    It’s very sobering to look at a weekly view in Outlook and see very little of the ‘Top priority’ color on my calendar…


    Note: change calendar minute scale by right clicking in calendar -> view settings-> other settings


    Most time management programs tell us to ‘have disciple’. I’ve found that working on the inner game of how to create desire and disciple automatically is more important than tactical approaches to managing time. Just finished Anthony Robbins ‘Time of your life’ and was helpful. $60 on eBay.




    Submitted Sep 22, 2011 4:59 PM

  9. .Colin B. says:

    good iPhone app is Eternity time Log by Komorian

    Submitted Sep 23, 2011 5:05 AM

  10. .Howard T. says:

    Have been using Toggl for keeping a time log and it works perfectly.

    Many thanks for the recommendation.

    Submitted Sep 24, 2011 6:46 AM

  11. .Terrill A. says:

    Great article Larry. In business as in life many people  want something for nothing and few are willing to commit to a disciplined practice. In business there is always a clamor for attention and it takes discipline  to identify and keep focused until completion high value tasks. I have found this to be a continual challenge especially with all of the new digital distractions. Thank you for the insight especially on the hand-off  techniques.

    Submitted Sep 29, 2011 10:05 AM

  12. .gery h. says:

    yup, it all sounds good. I will let you know how I do

    Submitted Oct 1, 2011 7:50 PM

  13. .Bill E. says:

    Larry, As an Engineer, I am a control freak. Because I am now trying to work on my business not in it and not be in the office, it becomes very important to impress on my President and he his staff to prioritize .

    Simple Formula for business: If you cannot measure it you cannot manage it

    What you are saying brings that home.

    Submitted Oct 19, 2011 9:22 PM

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