Do You Know Exactly What the Priority Is?

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Do you work in a fast-paced environment? Or, do you contribute to different departments or divisions?

If that’s the case it can be very difficult to be confident that what you are giving your time to is exactly what needs your time attention right now.

If you’re not careful pretty soon things that are incredibly important to other people become your top priority at the cost of your own goals and initiatives.

This episode covers how to prioritize your projects, initiatives and tasks so you know exactly what the priority is.

When Others’ Priorities Become Your Priority

I remember a point in my career when my manager at the time kept bringing up different tasks and initiatives for me to take on. I would get emails with new ideas, in meetings when the facilitator was looking around the room for a volunteer, he would nod at me and while talking to me, announce to the whole room that I could take it on. Then in our one-to-one meetings he would have more ideas and items for me to tackle.

The stress of it all built until I realized how utterly ridiculous it all was. There was no way I could complete all if it. Not by the end of the month, the end of the quarter, or the end of the year.

I made a list of everything he has assigned to me and in our next meeting I read my list to him. When I was done, I told him I could do everything on the list, but some things were going to have to wait a long, long time. I asked him to name what the priorities were.

Let me say first, when he realized how much he had put on my plate he was apologetic. He had not been keeping track of how much he was passing on to me. In his defense, I do have a lot of bandwidth and I didn’t have a lot of obligations outside of work at that time.

When I asked him to name the priorities, even he became a little flustered. When your list is full of good ideas it’s hard to kill of the less important ones. Even if you might be able to bring them back to life at some future time.

A Priority Needs to be Declared

If you don’t rank your initiatives, you’ll spend a little bit of time on everything and very little will get done.

Alternatively, knowing how to prioritize will reduces stress, helps you focus, and will improve productivity and time management. Moreover, if you set and maintain boundaries around the priority, you’ll also experience more work/life balance.

I’ve got some strategies you can utilize that will help you know what the priority is in any given moment so you can focus on what’s most important.

And, you can utilize these strategies on your own or do this as a team exercise. If your team gets to weigh in on what the priorities are, they are more likely to take ownership and respond accordingly.

I’m going to address prioritization from the project or initiative level to go through prioritization.

With this information you can set the priority at the higher level and then go into your high-priority projects and do the same exercise with all of the tasks involved in completing the project.

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1. Start by capturing your projects and initiatives

List your deliverables.

What are your goals for this year?

Have you added any unexpected projects due to changes in the market or the org chart?

Some examples of projects or initiatives are updating the onboarding process for new customers, reviewing and renegotiating vendor contracts, completing performance reviews, and being considered an expert in your role or industry.

Capture it all in one place whether is a word document or a dry-erase board.

2. Identify the deadline for every initiative

Next to each item assign a deadline if applicable. Performance reviews will have a deadline but remaining an expert may be an ongoing project. However, if being an expert is tied to a date, record it. To the best of your knowledge assign the date by when the project or goal needs to be completed.

If you are using a dry erase board and space is limited my recommendation is to capture all the items in a separate document and clear the board in preparation for the next step.

3. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to assign items importance and urgency

Create the outline of a large square and divide the square into four quadrants. Going up the left side of the square write Important and along the top write Urgent.

The bottom left square represents not important and not urgent. The bottom right will represent not important and urgent. The upper left will represent important and not urgent, and the upper right will represent important and urgent.

With dates already assigned, you have a sense of the urgency of each project or initiative. Now determine how important it is and then put it into the appropriate quadrant based on the combination of its urgency or importance.

4. Label the quadrants

Bottom left: Delete

Bottom right: Delegate

Upper left: Decide (Schedule)

Upper right: Do

Giving you are reviewing projects and initiatives; you likely don’t have any that you would just get rid of. However, as you go through this process again to identify the tasks within, look for redundancies or tasks that have been assumed to be necessary but in actuality are not.

The goal is to spend all your time in the upper quadrants. First on important and urgent items and then on important an unurgent. As much as possible delegate unimportant yet urgent tasks.

5. Now rank items within the upper quadrants

Which item has the highest priority? What will have the highest priority once that is complete?

6. Keep your priority list handy and be ready to play defense

There is no stopping the onslaught of things coming at you that will demand your time and attention. Yet, if you have your current priorities top of mind or within arms reach you will be ready to compare what new thing has presented itself to what the established priorities are.

Your urgent and important items today could potentially fall down the priority list if something more urgent and more important comes along. However, it’s more likely that things that are less urgent and/or less important will come along and try to turn your head.

In that case you will be ready with either a no thank you, you’ll pass it along to someone else or you’ll schedule it for a later time.

7. Every month or quarter review all your projects, initiatives and tasks to make sure you know exactly what the priority is.

Things change rapidly. You and your team stay focused on what is most important by setting aside time to regularly capture the shifting lay of the land.

If you need help focusing on the priority, let’s chat!

If your last promotion left you feeling unstable in your leadership role, or you are looking to develop into your next role, I invite you to consider working with me. I would love to support you through the transition, help you get your bearings, and feeling confident in your leadership once again. Schedule a meeting to chat with me.

If you are going to ask your company to sponsor you to work with a coach, this checklist will help you to prepare for that conversation.

As always, I hope this was of value to you, and here’s to your success!


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