Why be reactive when you can be productive? Prioritization is an effective leadership skill you should be honing.

When every day presents multiple business and leadership problems and opportunities, here’s a way to better prioritize your work and that of your team.

Are you a to-do list maker? Many people are…but what do you do when your to-do list is longer than the time or resources you have to complete it? That’s where prioritization comes in. Prioritizing is about doing the most important thing first—that key catalyst or enabler that allows other things to happen successfully—using your finite resources.

People commonly prioritize based on two broad criteria: “What am I going to feel good about or be comfortable with?” and “What’s on fire?”

What you prioritize and what’s urgent and important for you to do should be based on the business’s priorities, strategy and objectives. You should be asking, “Are these things we’re doing on a daily basis contributing to our overall success?”

If the answer is “I don’t know,” you’re probably not prioritizing correctly. Work priorities have to be guided by your assessment and opinion about the question: “Is this the best thing to do with my time/my team on this day in order to accomplish our goals?”


To help you prioritize, use this process…


1. Stop and think.

Considering your to-do list, think about what’s most important to the company and its strategy and objectives. As we know, change is constant, so it’s important to evaluate whether your priorities from yesterday are still valid for today based on what you/your team accomplished, what was added to your plate, and what unexpected problems or opportunities arose. It’s OK and necessary to reprioritize, so this is a good habit to get into every day.

2. Determine what’s most important.

Not everything on your list carries the same weight, so you need to clarify the most important things (1) relative to their impact on your business, customers, and people and (2) how you define success. Is it by meeting profit goals? Employee/Customer retention? Revenue? Diversity?

Often the first things on our to-do list are the things that are more routine—necessary to do, but not the most important things to do for the organization right now. That’s why reweighting your list is so important!

  • I need to do this for the business because…
  • I should do this…
  • I could do this…
3. Assess & gather information.

We all have finite resources to deal with—time, money, people. Evaluate the risks, rewards, opportunities and value of doing or not doing the items on your list. Get others’ input as needed to answer questions like

  • Is this a nice to have or a need to have?
  • What is the potential financial gain or loss?
  • Other gains or losses (e.g., customers, employees, reputation)?
  • How does this affect our business goals?
  • Is this in line with our goals?
  • What’s the value in getting this done?
  • What’s the risk if I don’t get it done?
4. Prioritize.

Based on what you’ve deemed important and the information you’ve gathered, finalize your list of priorities given the needs of the business and the needs of the people associated with the business (balancing investors, customers, employees). Be willing to reshuffle priorities based on what you assessed.

5. Align.

Practice effective communication with your team and any other relevant parties about the priorities, particularly if priorities have shifted. Make sure everyone understands the whats and whys of these priorities.

6. Manage the priorities.

We can’t say it enough: Change is constant. You’ll want to review your priorities regularly—at least weekly, but even daily—based on steps 1–4 above—to make sure they are still relevant and truly what you/your team should be focused on.


Now…what’s on your to-do list?

As a leader, others are looking to you to help them understand their priorities. Try this prioritization process to help you get a handle on what you and they should be doing. But remember, it’s a tool, not a magic pill, for prioritizing business problems. You need to make judgments, be wise, and be accountable.


How can we help your leaders and business excel?