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Leadership & Strategy


The power of prioritising business must-dos over can-dos

Business must-dos
A mix of difficult must-dos and easier can-dos is important.

Prioritising business must-dos over can-dos is challenging. Business leaders need to manage the tension between investing resources in long-term strategic must-dos with the more immediate and easier can-dos.

The key is to tie can-dos and must-dos together. To build a strategy that covers the day-to-day and the tasks that will help the business survive and thrive in the long term.

We spoke to two entrepreneurs about the importance of balancing the way they spend their time and their teams’ priorities.

How to categorise business must-dos and can-dos

Obelisk employs 10 staff and more than 1,000 freelance lawyers who provide legal services to FTSE companies and big law firms. Obelisk is known for being a champion of career returners and women in the legal industry.

Founder and CEO Dana Denis-Smith categories business must-dos as “tasks without which the business wouldn’t be running” such as communicating with clients and legal consultants, answering job queries, paying invoices and managing staff.

Can-dos are “less essential in the grand scheme of things but they are also an integral part of our business strategy”. This includes building a corporate social programme, applying for industry awards and attending events, and promoting thought-leadership.

When it comes to tackling must-dos, Denis-Smith said: “The client is always right. Standing out is difficult in a culture of ever-shrinking corporate budgets and increasing digital noise. Treat your clients right and you’ll be going in the right direction.”

Denis-Smith advises that if you’ve made a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit it. “Building trust takes time but destroying that trust only takes seconds. It’s better to be proactively building a relationship than retroactively doing damage control,” she added.

Using easier business can-dos to achieve must-dos

Working on a mix of difficult business must-dos and easier can-dos is important, argues Dana Denis-Smith, founder and CEO of London-based Obelisk Legal Support Services.

Longer-term must-dos are the best way to grow a company and anticipate problems. But they are also very time consuming and don’t progress very quickly, which can lead to project burnout, said Denis-Smith.

“This is why quick win business can-dos are also essential to keep morale up and make sure that you can take a breather in between the steps of a larger mission,” she added.

Denis-Smith current focus is on scaling the business, which means taking on more of those must-dos.

“This includes continuously reassessing our key performance indicators, revisiting our current technologies and deciding what we need to build in-house. It’s about creating technology that’s more adapted to scale up the business and streamline existing workflows,” she explained.

Denis-Smith aims to meld the business-critical must-do of scaling the business with easier, more immediately achievable can-dos to keep everyone motivated and on-track.

“To bridge the gap between ideation and completion, we’re focusing on short term quick wins such as client campaigns, analytics on our platform or tweaks to our existing technology,” Denis-Smith said.

Prioritising business must-dos keeps the business moving

Dessislava Bell is the co-founder of Zaggora, a London-based activewear brand, which was founded in 2011 and has 10 employees.

Business must-dos - Dessi bell
Bell stresses the need to take time out of the business for planning.

“Of course, it’s easier to focus on the easier priorities because they are more attainable, but you always have to be moving forward,” she said.

For example, social media plays an important role in the marketing of Zaggora products.

“It would be very easy to focus just on one channel because its successful but we are always looking to broaden our marketing mix. Trends are continually emerging in digital advertising and being open to experimentation is important if you want to stay relevant,” she said.

While diverting precious resource away from what’s working to experiment with the unknown can be a difficult proposition you have to make those things happen, Bell insisted.

Zaggora’s core product is its activewear hot pants. It’s easy to stay focused on the can-dos day-in, day-out because they are very successful, she said. But the business must broaden its range by going in different product directions and divert research and development resources to achieve this. Bell is investing in creating new product lines and partnerships, which she sees as the future of the business.

Business must-dos are about appreciating that the landscape is constantly changing and that you have to be looking ahead to what the next five years might hold, according to Bell.

“Everything in business takes longer than you think, so you always have to be working in advance,” she warned. “The power of prioritising business must-dos means giving the business the chance to thrive over the longer term.”

Take time out to focus uninterrupted on must-dos

Bell mentally fires herself from her role every week to ensure she takes time to focus on the future. By this, she means removing herself from the day-to-day running of the business to actually work on the business itself, swapping the head office for her home office.

“For this to work, you need to have a team you can trust to run the business on a daily basis,” she explained. “It’s about allocating uninterrupted time out.”

Read articles about how to improve your company’s productivity from Be the Business.


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