Entrepreneur’s must-have: a masterplan and to-do list

January 11th, 2011 by Greg Boutin
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In my experience helping entrepreneurs, the most important success driver of any business founder is the capacity:

  1. to know their success drivers,
  2. and to keep everything they do tied to those.

So being able to keep one’s eyes on the prize and not get lost in the weeds is the top quality any good entrepreneur should cultivate. In this age of information overload, however, requests are being thrown at us from every direction, and in the midst of that flood it can quickly become difficult to discern what matters from the rest. Luckily, whatever problems technology throws at us, the human brain can still solve. One method I recommend to solve the focus problem is to create two living documents to keep you on track:

  • A Masterplan, that lists both the overall goals for your business and the immediate milestones you are pursuing. Think of each as, respectively, your cardinal direction (I find that concept more flexible than a “destination”, which sets things a bit too much in stone), and the first island your boat should be headed to (in that same direction!)
  • A To-Do List, prioritized roughly

A few implementation tips:

  • Keep it simple. Both documents don’t have to be fancy. In fact, they really shouldn’t be. Try to keep them as concise and as clear as possible. The longer and fancier – as in feature creep - both documents become, the least chances you’ll use them and the more chances you’ll get lost on the way
  • Use standard software. For the masterplan, use a text editor like MS Word. For the to-do list, use a spreadsheet program like Excel, with 2 columns: Task, and “Done” (and if you’re good at excel, you can add an automatic timestamp for the Done entry). If you want my excel template for the to-do list, email me at gregboutin “AT” growthroute.com
  • Keep one version only. This one is obvious, but you should have only one version of each document. If you spread the information over more than one version, you’ll have version control issues, have conflicting objectives across the versions and won’t be able to assess the priority of tasks against each other as easily, so avoid that. Yes, even if you work on more than one business. If you want to create similar documents for your personal life, however, I recommend keeping those separate.
  • Update them every time. Very important: always, always keep both of the documents updated. Those should be working documents. Remember, they should be the unique source of truth for your business goals and your tasks. Captains use maps, compasses and task lists for the same reason. Yes, captains have task lists too. Or they should, in any case.
  • Start small. Iterate, completing each document over time, especially after each shower when you finally got some strategic thinking time!
  • Prioritize to-dos intelligently. I suggest a prioritization based on a loose combined factor of importance and urgency as perceived by the entrepreneur. Some like to separate both, thinking what’s urgent is not necessarily important. I disagree. First, it complicates your list. Second, the more important it is, the more urgent it should be, and vice-versa. But sure, some things are very important and can’t be done today, due to some dependency. Then either list the dependency, if that’s an action you should do soon, or downgrade the to-do, or move it to the Masterplan and make it part of your ”first island”: it might be important but it’s not actionable immediately, which is the key criteria for a working list. What’s top of list is what you should do next.
  • Align both documents. Check whether the actions you’re pursuing – which should be listed in your to-do list – further the goals in your masterplan. If not, or not much, scrap them. Understanding why some actions you listed do not align with the goals you expressed in the Masterplan may also lead you to revise those goals.
  • Share, but own. You are welcome and even invited to share your masterplan with your trusted partner(s), and to ask them for inputs. But remember, you are the Captain, and for as long as you are, you continue to own and be responsible for those documents.

What’s your system? Have recommendations? Please share.

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