“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” —Vincent Van Gogh
Whether you’re a first-time startup founder or a seasoned entrepreneur, the initial stages of a venture present a unique challenge for founders. During this time, it’s common for founders to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work ahead without knowing where to start.
If you have a general sense of the product or service you want to deliver, you likely have some idea of what needs to be done. However, starting from scratch with no office, colleagues, or manager to guide you can be a significant problem for most entrepreneurs. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to feel anxious and uncertain about where to begin. This anxiety, coupled with a perceived lack of progress, can undermine one’s confidence, especially when others around you are busy with their structured routines.
Overcoming this initial inertia is crucial for founders. Starting a startup is like cranking or priming a giant flywheel. Initially, you may not have enough power to move it even a little, but it’s something you must do. Only through incremental progress will the flywheel eventually gain momentum and start moving slowly. However, without sufficient push, the giant flywheel may come to a stop again, resulting in multiple false starts that can be frustrating.
To help entrepreneurs navigate these early challenges, I recommend the following habits:
1. Embrace Project Management Basics: Ideally, every student should learn the fundamentals of project management across disciplines, including humanities. Currently, project management is often taught as a specialized course or acquired by IT managers through certifications. However, even without in-depth knowledge, entrepreneurs can adopt simple approaches to navigate their early journey effectively.
2. Document Tasks with a Checklist: Cultivate the habit of documenting all the tasks you need to complete. This checklist approach is highly valuable throughout your entrepreneurial journey if adopted early on.
3. Break Down Large Projects: Understand that all large projects, no matter their size, consist of smaller tasks. Even enormous tasks can be broken down into more manageable components.
4. Sequence Tasks: Recognize that tasks are often interdependent and require other tasks to be completed before moving forward. For instance, when changing a flat tire, you must first find a spare tire and a jack to remove the flat one. Understanding how tasks sequence helps you plan effectively.
5. Identify Independent Tasks: Identify tasks that can be completed without relying on or waiting for others. These tasks are independent and don’t require connections to other activities. Start working on these tasks during your spare time and complete them. Remember that eventually, you’ll have to do these tasks anyway, so take advantage of any available slack time to tick them off your checklist.
6. Focus on Self-Sufficient Tasks: Regularly ask yourself, “What tasks can I do without any resources or assistance from others?” This question is crucial because many people mistakenly believe that they need significant resources and infrastructure for every task. A good entrepreneur completes all the tasks they can do independently as quickly as possible. During the early days, stay engaged by focusing on these types of tasks.
7. Start Building and Keep Engaged: Instead of spending hours contemplating who can support you or what resources you need for a task that may be far down the sequence, take an effectual approach. Build a small prototype yourself without raising funds. This hands-on approach teaches you more than idle contemplation. By continuously working on small tasks, you build confidence and demonstrate your capabilities to others. Starting something and staying engaged will alleviate anxiety in the early days.
8. Gain Momentum: Once you start tackling these small tasks, you’ll notice your momentum increasing. Avoid procrastination and start taking action, even if progress seems slow. What matters is that you’re moving forward. Don’t worry about achieving perfection in the early iterations.
9. Utilize Available Chunks of time : Whether it’s developing a prototype, finding a co-founder, writing a business plan, registering your company, or opening a bank account, there are numerous steps you can take without significant resources or external assistance. By completing these steps, you’re gradually shaping something that didn’t exist before. This creative process requires constant nudging and belief in your vision.
10. Keep Updating Your Task List: Continuously add tasks to your list and prioritize them. Every day, identify tasks that you can and need to accomplish. When you encounter roadblocks, explore alternative possibilities and add them as new tasks to pursue. Check and rearrange the list based on priorities and feasibility. Eventually you will see, you will be making great progress.
Writing is such a good habit for managing things. Many entrepreneurs fail to develop this skill.
If you want to unclutter your mind and bring efficiency and effectiveness to your action, start with building lists.
The human mind craves a sense of achievement. These small wins will motivate you to move to the next stage. Writing down and listing tasks is an excellent approach to managing your early days as an entrepreneur. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to see the number of tasks you’ve completed, which builds confidence and provides a sense of progress.
Without a manager assigning tasks, you must be proactive and take the initiative to get things done. This self-starting mentality is a key characteristic of successful entrepreneurs. Your tool is a simple task list.
Now, go out there and build your empire. Best of luck!
A J Balasubramanian is a serial entrepreneur, with over three decades of startup experience in founding companies, mentoring / incubating startups and writes regularly on topics of interest to startups.