3 Questions Founders Can Ask To Identify ‘Mission-Critical’ Work & Avoid Working On The Wrong Things

Learn to differentiate ‘must-have’ from ‘nice-to-have’ work to be an effective founder.

Kasra Khalili
3 min readJan 28, 2022
credit @golimitless

I’ve overworked myself fixing things that never really mattered.

In my first startup, I pulled countless all-nighters. On one occasion we were building a profile view that would allow users to edit their assessments straight from their profile without switching screens. After 6 straight hours in the dead of night, I got it to work flawlessly, a UX update that wouldn’t see users for weeks… Why? Why would I sacrifice sleep for this?

What I learned is that not everything is a “mission-critical” task.

We have to separate “nice-to-have” from “must-have” when we push our own limits.

Failing to know the difference can cost you unnecessary time, stress, and possibly your business.

A mission-critical task, service, or system is one whose failure or disruption would cause an entire operation or business to grind to a halt. It is a type of task, service, or system that is indispensable to continuing operations.

In startups, one of the most valuable assets you have is speed. The ability to innovate, push new products, and gain traction/revenue is everything. If you don’t, you fail. Founders will exhaust no resources to find success, including their own health and sanity. Not only can this mindset be detrimental to yourself, but it directly impacts the startup.

Knowing what to spend that precious time, the mission-critical work, can yield huge results. Expect better physical health & mental health, happier customers, and consistent growth in the vital areas of the business.

Here are three questions you can ask yourself to determine if the task, service, or system you’re working on is “mission-critical”…

NOTE: the examples below are for the early-stage founder with a small team, maybe only the co-founders or first handful of employees.

1) Who is expecting a result & is the deadline imminent?

Consider this as high-level and operational-focused. These must be without delay or you risk being in business.

  • Annual reports for your business.
  • Taxes, definitely pay those on time.
  • Paying your vendors.

2) Will completion help us add customers/revenue?

Anything that impedes your ability to grow should be thrown aside. Getting your product/service in front of customers as fast as possible is vital.

  • Inbound systems that new users/leads can access.
  • Completion of a contract for a new customer.
  • Adding a feature/product to capture attract new users.

3) Does it have an adverse impact on current customers?

When you have customers, you have to meet expectations of what you provide today and what you promised for the future.

  • Pushing fixes to a bug that interrupts core user workflows.
  • Answering tickets in a timely manner.
  • Meeting the target of a product launch.

Starting out, I felt pressure to succeed, I didn’t know what to focus on, and I did everything in my power to push our startup forward. This hurt both me and our startup. I hope this won’t be the case for you and through identifying mission-critical work you have a better chance of working on what matters most.



Kasra Khalili

I write about community, startups, & productivity to help early-stage founders and aspiring entrepreneurs take their business from 0 to 1, faster.