Stop Drinking from a Firehose

Danielle Gillespie
4 min readJun 21, 2022

If you feel like you’re drowning, it’s time to make a change.

I talk with so many entrepreneurs who describe their day-to-day status as ‘drinking from a firehose’. That feeling like everything is coming toward them at warp speed and there is no time to even catch a breath. It’s not a sustainable condition and will eventually lead to burn out. In the moment, however, it is extremely difficult to step back and figure out how to bring order to a seemingly chaotic state.

Growing a startup is challenging, and draining, and exhilarating. When transitioning from initial idea to tactical execution, founders will often feel overwhelmed by the list of things that need to be done. It is critical to be able to wade through all of the inputs and determine what should be prioritized, what can be delegated and what can be ignored.

Prioritize

As a founder, or part of a founding team, it is tempting to try to address everything that comes at you, but this is not necessary nor is it efficient. As tasks come through your firehose, you need to be able to identify urgency and importance, then prioritize those activities that support your ultimate business objectives. There is no scenario where everything that comes across your desk needs to be addressed. As new demands arise, you need to be able to decide if it is more, or less, important than something else in your todo stack.

Identifying and prioritizing the most important tasks will help you take control of your work week. You should compare emerging demands against your primary business objective and put those demands in one of four categories. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What do I hope to accomplish by performing this task?
  • What is the evidence to support the demand?
  • Is there a significant lost or won opportunity here?
  • Can we outsource this task?
  • If this is a priority, can it be accomplished by some compromise?

Day by day, you may tweak your task list but every couple of weeks you should do a high level evaluation. Make sure that the priorities you identify as both urgent and important are true to the vision. Your vision is a roadmap that may need to be periodically adjusted. This adjustment should happen infrequently and should be based on strong, data-based, evidence.

Get Help

I’ve spent a lot of time engaging with founders and good help is a key foundational element. Build a team with a diverse skill set, who you trust and who are fully committed to the vision and journey. You will spend a lot of time with this group of people so be sure your vision is fully communicated and that there is mutual respect.

You can start building your team even with a modest budget. Hire contractors part-time, exchanged equity for performance based outcomes, find people who align with the vision and are willing to take a short-term salary cut. Hiring an experienced professional part time might provide a better value than hiring a full-time, less experienced person.

And make intentional hiring decisions. Don’t hire because you feel you need to, hire in response to demand. If you have set clear evidence-based priorities, it will be easier to understand the amount of manpower required to continue to move forward while balancing business case against budget.

Delegate

With a strong team, clear vision and priorities established, it will be easier to evaluate the tasks coming across your desk. A clearly communicated set of objectives makes it easier to determine whether or not you need to perform the task, whether someone on your team can get in the driver’s seat or whether you can simply ignore the task.

It is difficult for many founders to delegate. Founders often think that nobody can do any given task better than they can. But, if you have a solid team that you trust, you can delegate tasks to them. They may not complete it the same way you would, sometimes they may even fail but, ultimately it will pay to nurture and support your team so that you can spend your time on the highest value tasks.

Want to learn more? Hit me up in the comments below.

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Danielle Gillespie

Defining the intersection between technology and human connection (I also help entrepreneurs build rock solid tech products: daniellegillespie.net)