Episode 191 | Brian Tracy’s ABCDE Method For Setting Better Priorities
[00:00] Mike Taber: In this episode of Startups For the Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about the ABCDE method for setting better priorities, this is Startups For the Rest of Us episode 191.
[00:16] Mike: Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome in launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
[00:23] Rob Walling: I am Rob.
[00:24] Mike: And we are here to share experiences to help you to avoid the same mistakes we’ve made, what the word this week Rob?
[00:28] Rob: You know we have another success story, Mathew Paulson wrote in and he said I started listening to Startups For the Rest of Us shortly after it started in 2010, using the advice and strategies mentioned on your show, I have been able to build 3 profitable software businesses including an investment research software business called Analyst Ratings Network, a press release distribution service and a piece of fund-raising software for animals, shelters and human societies. I am on track to have my first 7-figure year and I have just finished writing a book about the lessons I learned from building these businesses, the book is called 40 Rules For Internet Business Success it will be out on July 21st, you can learn more better at 40rulesbook.com, thank you for your continued inspiration to the bootstrapped startup community.
[01:07] Mike: Wow that awesome.
[01:08] Rob: I love to hear stories of people who are even in the small way are impacted by what we are doing, it helps them build their business, and then they go onto build really cool stuff and then go on to teach others as well.
[01:17] Mike: Yeah certainly so my wife and I are starting to really follow through on cutting the cord cable and this past week we called up Verizon, and just dumped our cable itself, we kept our internet and phone but just cutting the cable alone cut more than a $100 a month, so we still have Neflix and Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, that was the second night after we cancelled cable, and we are sitting there, just kind of looking at each other, and it is like well we could go watch a movie, but I am tired let’s go to bed.
[01:42] Rob: Yeah you don’t just flip the fun and watch like HDTV or other kind of mindless shows.
[01:46] Mike: Yeah we just went to bed and got more sleep instead.
[01:50] Rob: You know we first cut the cord like 7 or 8 years ago, and it was a big leap then because there was no Hulu Plus, no Amazon Prime, it really was just Neflix but we still had DVD’s you know, so we watched a lot of movies, it was a sacrifice at first, but especially these days I think it’s something that unless you need live sports pretty much everything else including like the Super Bowl, you know like Academy Awards ceremony and that kind of stuff tends to be streamed online now, and so you really don’t miss out on too much, and I found the same thing as you, I don’t spend very much time watching TV I watch a lot of shows, like probably 4 or 5 shows I follow but aside from that I don’t sit down and watch TV, so I really only watch like let’s say 4 or 5 hours a week total and I never watch commercials, so it’s actually not that much time that I spent in front of the TV. Speaking of that I had a recommendation for a show, have you watched Silicon Valley, it’s on HBO.
[02:44] Mike: I have not.
[02:45] Rob: Obviously you either got to have HBO Go or you know some other way to obtain it, the first episode was in full on YouTube. It’s interesting you know, it’s fun to kind of see people poking fun into the space, and Mike Judge who did Office Space is the creator and I think that he wrote the first few episodes. It’s worth checking out. It’s pretty vulgar and if you can tolerate that kind of stuff, then it’s a good show.
[03:03] Mike: So you say you don’t watch commercials, how do you deal with that when you are watching Hulu Plus?
[03:07] Rob: That to be honest that’s the one place where we watch it and it’s driving me nuts now, and I think I am going to cancel my Hulu Plus subscription, and if I want to watch something that’s on Hulu Plus I am going to buy it. I prefer to pay two bucks for an episode rather than watch, what is now like almost as many commercials as that are on now like in a network. What it started up is like 2 or 3 commercials for a 22-minute show and now it’s like 2 or 3 commercials per break, and then you have 3 or 4 breaks, it’s pretty ridiculous.
[03:33] I have been reading a lot of books lately, I am a big Audible fan and with that the, you know there were 13 hours of travel to and from Scotland and being in the airports and stuff, I just had a lot of audio time in the past month or so. So I want to run through a few of them and kind of give recommendations and my thoughts on them, there are related to just startups and then entrepreneurship in general. First is called Predictable Revenue, and it’s written by a guy or one of the guys who built the sales pipeline or the sales force at salesforce.com, and it’s an interesting book. I found that I got a little bit out of the first couple of chapters, but overall it’s about scaling a sales organization, so if you are not going to be scaling a sales organization, I would not recommend this book.
[04:12] He does have something early on and he hints at cold calling 2.0, and he talks about it and you are all intrigued and he really builds it up, and then when he gets to it, it’s cold emailing, it is getting a list of people and cold emailing them with a certain technique and I am like oh that was a big let down, I imagined that they maybe partially responsible for all the cold emails I get pitching me different products now, it’s not spam technically right it’s not stuff that it is getting spam, but it is people sending it through like YesWare and Tout app and that kind of a stuff, overall probably for our audience not really worth reading.
[04:41] Two that I think would be interesting to our audience, one is called Hatching Twitter, I think I mentioned it in our previous broadcast and a very, very good story of the beginnings of Twitter, and just all the chaos, the soap opera that went along with that. The other one that I just listened to is called Things A Little Bird Told Me, and this is Biz Stone, he is one of the co-founders of Twitter, it’s kind of his story, it’s a life story, and so his early stories aren’t as interesting as you know once he starts doing tech stuff, but he does a good job of kind of taking lessons away from different parts of his life, and linking them into his startup success.
[05:13] Rob: I have a lot of respect for Biz, he just seems to be, seems to be a hardworking legitimate guy, he didn’t stab much people in the back, I guess I have respect for him, so Things A Little Bird Told To Me is good, but I definitely would recommend you add it to you Audible list. The last one I will talk about is another one that I would recommend, and when it started off it is called Contagious, when it started off, I was thinking you know this is just like every other book about virality, and it’s going to focus solely on B2C stuff, and it’s all about viral videos, and it’s about the blend tech, you know will blend videos and it’s about that kind of stuff and to be honest it did have a lot of B2C leanings, but what I found is that he lays out five discrete steps, that makes something contagious, but what I liked about it is that, just listening to it I almost turned it off but once I started taking each of the points he talked about, when I started specifically applying it to Drip. It really started making a difference, and I actually was able to take a bunch of notes from it, like actual action steps, that I am going to either think about with Drip, or that I am going to implement on Drip and it’s ways to make it something that is easier for people to talk about and makes it more interesting for people who are using it, so I think if you have a product and you can apply this to it even if you are not in a B2C niche. I think Contagious is good for you. I think if you don’t have a product, and you are still kind of looking to launch or pre-launch or whatever I don’t think it’s going to necessarily give you a lot of value.
[06:34] Mike: I think that’s one of the big problems I have with a lot of business type books, it’s very difficult to find ones where you can get actionable stuff that comes out.
[06:43] Rob: I know when I read business books I really try to stick to specific niches that actually relate to us, because most books are like for the Fortune 500 VP of sales, and when you start reading you are like this does nothing to do with what I am doing.
[06:57] Mike: Yeah it’s just not relevant in any way, shape or form.
[06:59] Rob: Yeah exactly.
[07:01] Mike : But I think the only other thing I have is my wife finally opened up her own fitness studio in town, so I have been helping her through all of the “essential but unimportant aspects of setting up her business”….
[07:11] Rob: What are those?
[07:12] Mike: Well those are the things like filing the paperwork, and making sure that you get a checking account and things like that, you know it’s like the stuff that you need to do but doesn’t actually do anything for your business.
[07:20] Rob: Yeah so how come she gave that to you?
[07:22] Mike: It’s not that she gave it to me, she was asking for my advice on how to do different things and how to structure different stuff, and since I have done some of the stuff before, it makes it easy to…I’m east to access, I guess.
[07:31] Rob: Sure, sure.
[07:33] Mike: So just because I have gone through it a bunch of different times for several different businesses, you know I went down to the bank with her to help her out and just to help her ask like the right questions, and then in terms of the business paperwork going to the county clerk she actually did all that stuff, I didn’t, but then in terms of getting her lease straightened out you know I gave her some advice on that, and I think that the beneficial thing is that now that I am home all the time, it’s actually kind of allowed her to get herself in a position where she can open up a studio, because before when I was on the road all the time, it’s hard for her to have a studio because my schedules in flux which means that she can’t have a set schedule for her fitness studio. So having both of us at home is actually is going to be quite a bit more beneficial that I had probably thought it was in the past.
[08:13] Rob: Yeah sure that’s kind of a side effect I wouldn’t have thought about but it totally makes sense. Nice to mean it’s extra income that you wouldn’t have had. It’s pretty cool, congratulations.
[08:25] Mike: I guess we’ll piggyback a little bit on the book recommendations that you had, but this episode is kind of a summary of a method that I had picked up from Chapter 6 of a book called Eat That Frog, 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating, Improve Your Organizational Skills and Get More Done in Less Time, the book is by Brian Tracy. And this episode is just gonna to be one chapter the book, there is another 20 interesting ideas that are in there which if you are struggling with time management or procrastination or anything like that, you know there is a lot of different things in there that could certainly help you out, but I primarily picked it up because I have been looking at a lot of different things on time management and getting more things done faster, and this was definitely a way to do that.
[09:01] Mike: So the specific techniques that we are going to talk about today is I have actually used a variation of it for quite some time, but it was really interesting to see a much more formalized structure of this mechanism, so I have kind of restructured a little bit of how I am handling it. But the basics of it is that what Brian Tracy lays out is that the Step 1 is to write out your to do list, so you lay down every single thing that it is, that you have to, you know anything where you can list them out, I actually use Trello for my variation of this strategy, and then once you’ve done that, Step 2 is to assign each item to a specific category, so the categories are labeled A, B,C,D, and E and we will go through each of them.
[09:39] Mike: The first one is A, A stands for Very important, it’s something that you absolutely must do and if you don’t do it, there are serious negative consequences, if you don’t do it, so examples of that would be, if you don’t pay your bills when it’s due in 2 or 3 days, it’s like that’s something that you really have to do, and if you don’t do it, like a mortgage payment for example then something like that, although it is not business related it is I will say life related, and because of that it falls into your to do list, so you have to pay the mortgage and it’s got to get done and it’s got to get done very, very quickly and if you don’t do it, then you are going to get into smack with late fees, and then on top of that it could end up on your credit report, if you don’t do it for long enough.
[10:18] Rob: Right and I think another example probably dealing with business is like paying your taxes, or getting deliverable to a client, or getting someone who is trying to use your App to the next step of onboarding, if you are doing kind of intensive high touch sales type of stuff, I realize that one could be bumped to B where it’s just important, but I would say if you are going to be losing revenue or having to pay a penalty or something then that would stand in A, like A is revenue driving stuff, but I would say that probably in A marketing tasks would not go there, not unless they are super time critical, like it’s a Black Friday, promotion and it has to go on that day, and it’s Wednesday of that week, and then your Black Friday email drafting would go into very important, but if it’s not time sensitive if it’s just like drafting copy for a new ad or trying to run a new campaign or exploring stuff I would say that would go on lower priority stuff.
[11:11] Mike: That’s right. So as you are kind of alluded to B stands for Important, it’s something you should do, it’s not as important as your A task. But you know there is relatively minor consequences for not completing it today, you know as you said some of the marketing tasks if you don’t finish rewriting your webpage today, then you can always come back to it tomorrow and it’s not that big a deal. Sure, you know it’s going to get pushed out and there are things that it would be nice to have it done today, but it’s not so critical, it’s not time sensitive in most cases, but as you said if there are times where, you know you’ve got a deadline of some kind. Let’s say that there is marketing materials that you’ve got to get out for a press release, because it’s coinciding with a launch event, sure those things will fall into an A task, but otherwise if you don’t have a lot of things that are kind of coming in together all at once, they would probably fall into the B category.
[11:58] Rob: Yeah this is where the majority of my tasks fall, as a kind of day to day marketing startups and doing conferences, and doing the Podcast and all that stuff. I think the stuff moves into the A point, where A it is going to cost me money, B it is going to make me money, and I am going to lose that if I don’t do it, or C it’s a deadline like you and I are going to be recording the podcast at 2:00 o’clock and it’s 1:00 o’clock and I need to outline it. Right? So then it’s very important because otherwise I am really, basically have like a hard deadline that I really can’t push off, so I think B is kind of where the bulk of my stuff that I ever do is where I want to prioritizing it, and I to be honest I don’t use A, B, C, D, E, I don’t like but I really like the idea of it right now, based on your previous mention I just have two Trello boards one is my to do A, and then I have to do B, and A is not critical important stuff. It’s kind of everything I am working on and then B is stuff that I want to do long-term or that it is less important and I rarely get to my B, but I like the idea, you know once we get down to D and E and people hear about those, I think I am going to be adding those to my Trello boards as well.
[13:03] Mike: One of the things you kind of mentioned was that you know a lot of the stuff that you work on kind of falls into the B category, what I found is that things kind of move from one category into the next based on how close you are to the deadline. So for example something might start out as a B task and then it moves into an A Task as the deadline gets closer because you push it off, because you got other things that are kind of more important, but then that deadline comes up and you move it from B to A because you’ve got to work on it now because you are not going to have time later on.
[13:32] Rob: And you know I think this is why early stage startups are so hard, because there isn’t so much that has such a strict deadline, and there isn’t so much that is going to make you money, or cost you money when you pre-launch, and you are just trying to get to launch. Right? So it’s hard to prioritize because everything kind of falls into B, and then you need to go with your gut of what’s going to have the most impact, either to your motivation or to getting you closer to launch, and that’s where I do think it’s tricky and there is a lot of judgment calls, and to what task should you step to next.
[14:06] Mike: Yeah, and I think a lot of those things you know for example things like the billing code, that’s something that typically you would say, “oh well I have got to get this done and it’s pretty important”, but at the same time until you start getting customers the billing code just doesn’t matter, so the reality is you could almost push that into the C category which stands for things that are nice to do but are not as important as A or B, and there is no negative consequences for not completing it, so if I don’t do the billing code today, and I don’t have any customers it really doesn’t matter. If I don’t do the billing code for 3 months, and I have 5 or 10 customers, the reality is that it probably still doesn’t matter that much. It’s only when going through the billing process is so cumbersome that it’s actually costing you a lot of time and effort to do it. That’s when it should probably progress into a B or an A task, because you want to be able to scale but that becomes a limiting factor in your business. So if it’s a time crunch or some kind or if it’s becoming a limitation on your business and how quickly you can move and how many things you can get done that’s kind of in my mind, when it can move from C to B to A and then there is things where you just completely miss the deadline, and it completely goes from A to okay well why am I going to even bother doing this.
[15:17] Rob: Yeah we were at somewhere between 12 and 15 essentially paying customers with Drip before I had billing code rolled, and I was just doing manual billing, I had a bunch of calendar reminders that would pop up every 30 days, and I would bill a person for the next month and it wasn’t even that time consuming. I did it myself, I didn’t even delegate it to anyone. And that was my MVP for my billing engine was me sitting there clicking a button and entering a dollar amount, billing code definitely fell into C at that point. What else I think is interesting is how this applies to your email inbox as well, and I know emails are a form of to dos, but you know I have been traveling a lot over the past couple of years and when I leave for 2, 3, 4 weeks and I don’t answer anything except for an A email during that time, I find that a lot of the C emails disappear by the time I get back, and what I mean by that it’s still in my inbox they are irrelevant and I never needed to respond, either the person figures the stuff out, or it just wasn’t really that important. Whereas if I am sitting here in my office and I am checking email every couple of hours. I feel the need to respond to those but when you are on vacation, it’s like an excuse to maybe not even on vacation just traveling right, it’s kind of an excuse to not have to answer those, and I actually think that’s better for your time management overall, and I think it forces you into the time constraint of you know what if I could only work 1 hour a day, which was something I did all of October last year, and you know what it wasn’t actually that bad, we launched to 600 people because Drip wasn’t live yet, we launched to 600 people in October, and everything was in place to handle that, and there were no major fallouts not only with that launch but all the other businesses and all the other things that I am working on, it all turned out okay, so they really do have this kind of false sense I think of needing to work 8 hours a day or more on things, having more time really doesn’t make you necessarily more efficient, and if you choose which things to put in your A’s and B’s and you can ignore the others I really think that you can get more power out of the hours a day that you do work.
[17:13] Mike: People use going on vacation as an excuse to not replying to emails. I was listening to the Tim Farris Podcast, it’s called the Tim Farris Show, he had a guest on, I think it was the episode where we had Neil Strauss on, who is the author of The Game, and he was asking Neil what his thoughts were on email, and how he gets things done, and one of the things that came out of it, was that he does not even actually have internet access, so he can’t check his email during most of the day, he has this software installed that it’s aimed at keeping your kids safe, and making sure that they can only access the internet while you are around. Well he has it in place but his wife has the password, and it only opens up during two hours of the day, so he literally cannot check his email or do anything online unless his wife is there, to put in the password for him during these two hours of the day, so he is kind of taking it to an extreme level.
[18:05] Rob: I heard that too and what I really loved about it was his quote he said “It’s amazing how quickly you can get through email when you know you only have 60 minutes to do it.” And that’s it, you force that you put an artificial constraint on it, and you will crank through things, things that you would take 3 hours to do, you can get done in 60 minutes, if you just hustle through it.
[18:23] Mike: So we’ve talked about A, B and C tasks so far, let’s talk about the D task, the D in this system stands for delegate, and these are the tasks that you can assign to somebody else who can do that job instead of you. And you know we are kind of big proponents on the show about doing a lot of outsourcing and taking things off your plate, recording screen casts, and setting up standard operating documents and procedures, and handing those things off to other people. But really if you are taking a look at your task, there is a lot of things that if you are looking through your task, before you even get started, and you are going to find that there is a ton of stuff on there, that you just cannot possibly finish all of it in any given day, and in fact most of it is going to take you a very long time, and I think one of the big fallacies or myths that I kind of got caught by very early on was that all if once I scale to a certain amount of revenue and have enough people working for me, I will have enough time to get all of this stuff done, I will never be in a situation where my to do list will outstrip my ability to actually get stuffed done because I got to hand these things off to people where I can get all the stuff that’s not important off my plate.
[19:25] But reality is that, you can’t I mean there is only so much that you can do no matter what. In order to get a lot of these things done, you are going to have to delegate it, you are going to have to outsource it to some people, and whether that’s accounting stuff or whether its’ programming or marketing or you know you can bring other people in to do some of that stuff for you, but the key is to be able to concretely identify what it is that you can outsource and what you can’t.
[19:50] Rob: What I like about the system is, he is basically having you decide if it’s a D right when you come up with a task, and so you are kind of doing it in bulk, what I do is I just this A and B list. I put everything in A that I am working on, and when I get to a task, I ask myself can I delegate it, can I eliminate this task, that means that I am processing each one individually and I don’t think it is efficient as what he has.
[20:13] Mike: You know what I found out is that I tend to forget that stuff so like if I am going through my to do list I will get to something, and I just immediately think, okay I got to get this done and it doesn’t necessarily occur to me that oh insert this if statement and say hey can I delegate this, and if not, you know then do it but otherwise if I can then figure out how to delegate. I tend to get into the mode of getting things done and going through that list and I don’t stop to think at the beginning of each one to you know see if I can delegate it.
[20:41] Rob: Right. Yeah, I think I have gotten into a habit, a pretty good habit of, every task that I get, every email I get and everything in my to do list that the first question I ask is can I delegate it, and it’s taking a while to get into that habit. There are two points this week one was I emailed you about it actually the audio player inside the Micropreneur Academy started having problems and our audio files were fine, but if you played it in the browser, it was all chunky and I went around tried to figure out what it was, turns out there is a new version of it that works in new browsers, we had to update 89 pages because of the way it is a WordPress thing, and it’s an individual post. So my first thought was “Boy! I am sure not going to go through it and update 89 pages,” even though it was a little bit of a technical thing where you had to update some java script and make a couple of changes but instead of going through and doing it, which probably would have taken me who knows maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes it wasn’t be another world instead of doing that I recorded a screen cast really quick, and poof it was just gone like magic right I mean I got it and emailed back 6 hours later whatever and Andy had taken care of it, and there was another point where someone emailed and they wanted an invoice for a MicroConf Europe ticket they purchased, and again how long does that take, you know it takes 5 minutes maybe to get a Word format up and we have a template already and you enter some info but instead shot off an email, and just had replied directly to that guy I don’t need to see this again you know, and both of those are small examples of delegation. They are not things that are going to save me, hours a week, but by combining a bunch of those together and considering I get 10 things a week like that come up, it actually does save me hours a week.
[22:13] Mike: Yeah the bottom-line there is that all of those different things that you delegate they add up. I mean even if you are only saving 5 or 10 minutes for 5 or 6 different tasks, I mean if you just saved yourself half an hour out of the day, you know that’s a significant chunk of the day, that you just freed up to do other things. So let’s move onto E, E stands for Eliminate, if at any time if it’s ever possible to just eliminate something, because it’s not important, go ahead and do it, if it’s something that you deem to be qualified for elimination, then chances are that it’s just not good enough for you to do. I mean it’s not even worth your time to go through the effort of delegating it to somebody just to get it done.
[22:52] Rob: I feel like in my system I do this before I add stuff to the to do list at all, I have a pretty itchy trigger finger, so when new tasks come up I will just fire them off to my Trello board via email, but before I do that I have a pretty heavy filter like do I actually need to do this, so I rarely go through my to do list and eliminate things, I feel like I eliminate them in advance, right and I don’t actually put them on the to do list.
[23:16] Mike: I think one of the more interesting examples of where you could use this, this E step is if you are brainstorming with people on your team and you just, you know when you are brainstorming stuff you don’t want to throw anything away, you just want to throw ideas out there, write them down and get them out, and then discuss them after the fact. So I think that’s very key part of the process where you can brainstorm just throw the stuff on paper and instead of eliminating it before you add it to the to do list, you do it afterwards kind of that batching process. Another place where that might come up is the customer suggestions that come in that are just so off the wall, those are places where I could see it being used as well.
[23:52] Rob: Yeah I do have a list in Trello which is obviously a collection of the little Trello cards and it’s just called future, and it’s stuff that I think we want to do, but it’s some bigger picture projects that haven’t been flushed out into individual steps. And I would definitely want to track it, it’s not something should be eliminated it can’t be delegated yet, it will probably be delegated to maybe multiple people or it’s a pretty in depth spec that’s needed to give to a developer, and it’s stuff that’s not critical to get done now, but it’s kind of like a future marketing idea that needs some coding or an E-book written or something like that, so I do have a future board and I think that will probably fit into my I guess that’s like my C, but realistically I think that might be a combination of C and D for me.
[24:35] Mike: So we will just quickly recap on the ABCDE method: A stands for Very Important, and it’s things that you have to do, B stands for Important and something that you should do, C is something that is nice to do, D stands for delegate and E stands for eliminate, so if you are interested in hearing more about this particular book, again this is just chapter 6 of Eat That Frog, there is 20 other time management and organization management skills that you can learn through the book, it’s only $9 on Amazon. It’s a very, very short book but if you want to speed through it even faster which you can do is you can skip to the end of each chapter, and at the very end of each chapter there is probably 2 or 3 paragraphs, where it just summarizes the content of the chapter itself, and you can get a very quick overview of some of the different things are that they are talking about in depth, and if there is anything that you don’t understand, you can just flip back through the chapter and read it a little bit more, but the book itself I think is only about a 120 pages or so, it’s pretty short.
[25:29] Rob: If you’ve listened to this episode and you have a question for us, you can email us at email@example.com, we also have a voice mail number, it’s 888-801-9690, you can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or by RSS at StartupsFortheRestofUs.com where we also include a full transcript of each episode, our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Out of Control by MoOt and it is used under Creative Commons. Thanks for listening, see you next time.