Advisory firm owners often hear “business consultant speak” about focus. That is, focusing on one thing in your business to move it forward.

Here’s the problem: Each day, there are eight key areas of your business to manage — leadership, corporate finance, management, human capital, sales, marketing, client services and operations.

While effective operations in each of these areas is essential to business success, they also can create considerable confusion for firm owners. This is particularly so when determining what to focus on when, and how to decide what needs to be done first.

Ironically, I’ve found that most firm owners already know the answers to these questions without having to look hard at each of these areas. Plus, those answers generally help owner advisors improve their focus in two different areas.

The Two-Step

Let me explain what I mean by that. To help my clients, I ask: “Which of these eight business areas is ‘bothering’ you the most?” In other words, which area has the most pressing problem(s), or the most promising, unrealized opportunity (or opportunities)?

Owners nearly always have an immediate answer to both questions. All business owners can identify the problem areas of their enterprises. Many, including myself, spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to avoid dealing with them.

To help owner advisors break through this procrastination, I recommend they make a daily “to do” list. But not just any “to do” list — more like a “must do” list.

First, write down the biggest “problem” you have in each of the eight areas listed earlier. Next, decide which problem needs the most immediate attention and put that issue at the top of your list.

Second, while thinking about the eight areas, write down a pressing issue that you want to work on the most (a new marketing strategy, hiring a key employee, adding a new client service, etc.) And put it in the No. 2 slot on your list.

That’s it. A two-item to-do list — one that you want to do and one that you need to do.

Great Outcomes

Most owners get the best results when they focus on the “need to do” first and then reward themselves for dealing with that issue by working next on the task they most want to do.

Another benefit of this approach is that you don’t get overwhelmed with an impossibly long list of things that need doing. (Worry about the next two things to do after you’ve finished the first two.)

Goals, strategies, and lists of pressing issues are all tools to help you build a better business. But if these resources aren’t used carefully, they can overwhelm you and undermine both your motivation and your efforts.

To be more effective, turn to what you already know about your business and what it needs to improve. Tackle a couple tasks that should be done first — and have some fun while focusing on them.

Angie Herbers is an independent consultant to the advisory industry. She can be reached at angie@angieherbers.com.