Avoiding Analysis Paralysis: How to Prioritize in Your Retail Business

Avoiding Analysis Paralysis: How to Prioritize in Your Retail Business

Prioritizing retail tasks | Shopify Retail blogThe nuances of retail in today’s climate have brought a wealth of new selling opportunities — and with that, a sometimes overwhelming amount of information. Smarter tools and technologies are giving us more data than ever, consumer behavior is evolving rapidly, and the path to retail success is no longer linear.

When you’re being pulled in a million directions, how do you know which direction is the way to go? Prioritizing and finding balance both in your personal life and your business is a constant struggle, but essential to the longevity of your success.

Having trouble prioritizing in your own life and biz? We’ll take you through the prioritization process and help you determine how to figure out what needs to be done now, what can wait, and what can be outsourced.

Formula for Success

Typically, prioritization begins with listing your to-dos and putting them in order of importance or in which you should complete them. If you approach prioritization from a math-inspired perspective, you can come up with a formula, or equation, for success. If you’re visual, consider creating a table or chart to help categorize your tasks. Allocate points to each category, and use the sums to help you prioritize

Here are some categories to consider:

  • Deadline (offer higher points value for deadlines that are more aggressive)
  • Cost to outsource or to take care of the task (again, the greater the expense, the higher the points value)
  • Time commitment to complete (more time means more points)
  • Business impact (award more points to impactful tasks)
  • Value to customer(s) (if this will have a major positive impact — or negative, if you neglect it — on the customer experience, allocate more points to the task)

The points-based approach can help you see things objectively, as well as identify which tasks are maybe not so important. This can actually help your overall well-being: Research has found that high-effort, low-rewarding tasks can adversely affect you. From there, you can begin chipping away at your tasks.

When it comes to actually getting things done, there are a few ways you can go. Some entrepreneurs report that doing their biggest task first thing in the morning sets them up for success for the rest of the day, as well as helps them focus on that major task with a clear head. Others batch tasks based on a theme — maybe it’s responding to a litany of customer emails before moving on to all fulfillment tasks, and so on.

Here’s a tip: Use your sales reports to determine the busiest and slowest times. Your slowest times are ideal for difficult tasks, while busy times can be allocated for simpler, smaller tasks.

Strapped for time? These 10 productivity hacks for retailers will have you crossing off your to-dos in no time.

Proven Methods of Prioritization

Prioritizing for retail | Shopify Retail blog

There are several frameworks and models you can either follow or use as inspiration to create your own prioritization process:

David Allen’s Getting Things Done (or GTD) method

Allen has separated prioritization into five steps:

  1. Capture: Collect what has your attention
  2. Clarify: Process what it means
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs
  4. Reflect: Review frequently
  5. Engage: Simply do

Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez’s Hierarchy of Purpose

Project management expert Nieto-Rodriguez coined the term “Hierarchy of Purpose” in an article he penned for the Harvard Business Review. In the article, he outlines his framework:

  1. Purpose: What is the purpose of the organization and how is that purpose best pursued? What is the strategic vision supporting this purpose?
  2. Priorities: Given the stated purpose and vision, what matters most to the organization now and in the future? What are its priorities now and over the next two to five years?
  3. Projects: Based on the answers to the first two points, which projects are the most strategic and should be resourced to the hilt? Which projects align with the purpose, vision, and priorities, and which should be stopped or scrapped?
  4. People: Now that there is clarity around the strategic priorities and the projects that matter most, who are the best people to execute on those projects?
  5. Performance: Traditionally, project performance indicators are tied to inputs (e.g., scope, cost, and time). They are much easier to track than outputs (such as benefits, impact, and goals). However, despite the difficulty companies have in tracking outputs, it’s the outputs that really matter. What are the precise outcome-related targets that will measure real performance and value creation? Reduce your attention to inputs and focus on those instead.

The RICE Method

Used by many project managers, the RICE method uses a scoring approach to prioritization. Sean McBride defines this framework on the Intercom blog:

  1. Reach: How many people will this impact?
  2. Impact: How much will this impact each person?
  3. Confidence: How confident are you in your estimates?
  4. Effort: How many “person-months” will this take?

Pomodoro Technique

Less a prioritization approach and more a productivity philosophy, the Pomodoro Technique is pretty simple:

  1. Choose a task you want to complete
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Work uninterrupted on said task
  4. When the timer’s up, write a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. Take a short break (around 5 minutes)
  6. Repeat

After you’ve completed four rounds of uninterrupted work, you’ve earned a longer break. The Pomodoro Technique recommends 20–30 minutes. Keep doing this until your workday is over or your tasks are complete.

Kano Model

Kano Model flowchart | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Slide Model

This model for prioritization specifically applies to product development in relation to customer satisfaction. When it comes to these areas of your business, the Kano Model categorizes them into one of five groups (however, only three of the five are considered relevant to all retailers, as the other two “represent rare situations”). Wikipedia offers a breakdown:

  1. Must Be’s or Basic: Simply stated, these are the requirements that the customers expect and are taken for granted. When done well, customers are just neutral, but when done poorly, customers are very dissatisfied. Kano originally called these “Must-be’s” because they are the requirements that must be included and are the price of entry into a market.
  2. One Dimensional or Performance: These attributes result in satisfaction when fulfilled and dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. These are attributes that are spoken and the ones in which companies compete. An example of this would be a milk package that is said to have 10% more milk for the same price will result in customer satisfaction, but if it only contains six percent then the customer will feel misled and it will lead to dissatisfaction.
  3. Attractive or Excitement: These attributes provide satisfaction when achieved fully, but do not cause dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. These are attributes that are not normally expected, for example, a thermometer on a package of milk showing the temperature of the milk. Since these types of attributes of quality unexpectedly delight customers, they are often unspoken.
  4. Indifferent: These attributes refer to aspects that are neither good nor bad, and they do not result in either customer satisfaction or customer dissatisfaction. For example, the thickness of the wax coating on a milk carton. This might be key to the design and manufacturing of the carton, but consumers are not even aware of the distinction. It is interesting to identify these attributes in the product in order to suppress them and therefore diminish production costs.
  5. Reverse: These attributes refer to a high degree of achievement resulting in dissatisfaction and to the fact that not all customers are alike. For example, some customers prefer high-tech products, while others prefer the basic model of a product and will be dissatisfied if a product has too many extra features.

Employ Tools to Help Prioritize and Increase Productivity

There’s an app for nearly everything, and prioritizing tasks is no exception:

  • Wunderlist: The complementary web and mobile apps for Wunderlist allow you to create to-do lists, assign deadlines, and reorder prioritization on the fly.
  • Asana: A task-based project management tool, Asana is especially great for prioritizing while collaborating. Add deadlines, create projects, and assign project/task owners.
  • 1Focus: This works on Apple products and will keep your device distraction-free for the amount of time you tell it to do so.
  • Momentum: Not only do you receive task reminders, set weekly targets, and capture notes, but you can also receive reports on where your time has been spent the most, which is helpful when you assess your priorities.
  • Pocket: Instead of falling down the digital rabbit hole of consuming a never-ending amount of content, you can save links to refer to later — when you’re not trying to tick off the tasks on your to-do list.
  • Social media tools: There are a few great options, including Buffer, Meet Edgar, and Hootsuite, that can help you batch schedule posts for your business’s social media accounts.
  • Toggl: The free time-tracking tool is great for managing teams and seeing how long everyone (including yourself) is spending on specific tasks.

Automate these five processes in your retail business and free up even more time to focus on bigger projects.

Consider Who Else Is Affected

Even solopreneurs’ actions affect others — whether it’s your customers, contractors, or even loved ones. Determining who else is impacted and to what degree can help you prioritize tasks.

Have an honest, open dialogue with these individuals. Tell them what’s going on in your life/business. You’d be surprised by how many of their priorities become less urgent, and they may even offer to jump in and help you out. This can be a great way to learn which tasks you can delegate to others to free up your own time and keep things moving.

When possible, document your agreements and conversations in writing (this pertains mostly to your business contacts). This will not only hold all parties accountable but also help eliminate any miscommunications. If you have a conversation over the phone or in-person, follow-up emails that summarize the conversation and next steps with deadlines (and who’s responsible) will suffice.

Outsource Strategically

Outsourcing is an $88.9 billion industry in the U.S. — and for good reason. It frees up time so you can get other tasks done, as well as allows you to hire experts who can make a bigger impact at specific tasks.

Outsourcing in retail allows you to run your business more efficiently. Here are some roles to consider:

  • Project manager
  • Virtual assistant
  • Accountant/bookkeeper
  • Salesperson
  • Data analyst
  • Product photographer
  • Marketer
  • Web developer

Remember What’s Most Important

At the end of the day, the people behind your business are the most important. That includes your employees, your customers, your friends and family, and yourself (most importantly). Overwhelm can fuel productivity or hinder it; time management and prioritization strategies will help you determine how to go about your tasks.

Maintaining a work-life balance as a retailer is also crucial. Balance your business and your personal life to achieve sustainable success.

Photo of Alexandra Sheehan

About the Author

Alexandra Sheehan is a freelance writer/editor and content specialist. She’s worked with retailers ranging from Fortune 100 companies to Etsy shop owners, and is always looking for innovative ways to help her clients.

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