Too much work and too little time? Now is the time to master prioritization!
Replace thinking “I don’t have enough time” with “It’s not a priority.”
You will probably never have enough time in the workday to do all the things you want to do. But you WILL get done what you deem “a priority.” To be a master at prioritization means knowing what needs to be done in what order, based on value, impacts, costs (money, time, negative effects), and relevance to business objectives.
Prioritization is central to productivity and performance. It’s also one of a dozen key skills that characterize effective managers.
To get you started, here’s a process you can use to determine priorities at work.
Stop and think.
Consider your current situation. There will always be too much work and not enough time. So, when you have too many problems, too many choices, and too many questions is when you need to prioritize.
Determining work priorities means figuring out the most important thing to do first for the betterment of the organization. But as you’re figuring out what to do today, you also need to consider the future. What needs to be done to keep things moving forward to achieve goals down the road?
Align with your supervisor.
Clarify what’s most important with your supervisor, considering what matters to the business, investors, customers, and your people. Also make sure you know what success looks like—is it meeting profit goals? Increasing customer or employee retention? Generating revenue?
For example, Boy Scouts are taught a survival plan based on STOP: Stop, Think, Observe, Plan, with priorities being shelter, fire, water, and food. In those terms, what is most important to your business and situation—what are your shelter, fire, water, and food?
Based on what you discuss with your supervisor, you will need to make choices about what is and isn’t going to get done by a certain time/date. Ask yourself: Will a certain activity help you reach business objectives? What activities will have the greatest impact?
Assess and gather information within your span of control.
Consider that you are working with finite resources—time, money, people. You will need to calculate the value of doing something against the costs/risks of not doing it. Is it a nice to have or a need to have? Does it present an opportunity that expands its value?
Look at your priorities list and apply the 3 T’s – Time, Treasure, Talent.
- How much time you think it’s going to take (estimate)
- How much time you have (reality)
- How much you think it’s going to cost
- What skills and knowledge you think you need to do what has to get done, when you need them, where to get them, and how much they cost
Get input from other stakeholders to clarify what you could do, should do, and ultimately will do.
Finalize your list of priorities based on the needs of the business and of the people associated with the business (investors, customers, and employees). You may have to reshuffle priorities based on these needs.
Align with your team.
Communicate the priorities and timelines with the team so everyone is on the same page about what’s needed and when. But first, take 5 minutes and run through this effective communication exercise to help ensure your messages are received as you intended.
Manage priorities and create a contingency plan.
Review the priorities you’ve set on a regular basis—at least weekly. Be ready with a contingency plan if you hit snags or roadblocks.
A contingency plan is a proactive strategy you can turn to when challenges or opportunities arise that change priorities. To develop a contingency plan, you’ll need to:
- Identify potential problems or challenges. What could go wrong that could affect the priorities you’ve set. Consider the 3 T’s – Time, Treasure, Talent.
- Outline the potential impact. What if your timeline is accelerated? What if your budget is cut or costs rise dramatically? What if a needed component is delayed? What if a key person leaves the team?
- For high-impact problems or challenges, repeat the planning process to create an alternative plan.
A tool, not a cure-all.
Even with this helpful process, there is no magic pill for prioritizing business problems. As a leader, you need to make judgments, be wise, and be accountable.
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