Ever since I was a child, I was told to get my priorities straight if I wanted to be successful. Turns out, that’s a lot easier said than done.
Sometimes it feels like I have a never ending to-do list; what’s more, everything on it feels important, and I can end up feeling as though I’m being pulled in 12 different directions. The pressure of this situation is amplified when you’re not only responsible for managing your own priorities, but those of a team as well.
It takes an extremely high level of organization and decision-making, whether you’re a project manager, small business owner, or a mid-level manager at a huge company.
So, how can we manage priorities to make sure we’re focusing on the right things?
Below, I’ll present you with five techniques that you can use to align team priorities, simplify your workload, and make sure you and your team are working on the right things.
Determine Your #1 Priority
This tip stands in direct contrast to the feeling that “everything is a high priority”. Let’s take a second to zoom out and examine how this works.
I work for a company that developed a prioritization and collaboration tool that aims to help teams align their priorities and work together more efficiently. Due to the nature of my company, this is an issue we talk about a lot.
For us, what helps us stay on track is determining our #1 objective, and aligning our goals and action items around that.
For example, our overarching goal at the moment is growing our top funnel. When we consider taking on new initiatives and projects, we ask ourselves “does this contribute to the top funnel?” If the answer is yes, the project is a go.
Now, this isn’t to say we’re all working on the same thing. Our engineering team is still working on product development, our CEO still runs analytics and works on business development, and our customer success team still takes care of our clients.
However, each particular team works on initiatives that are geared toward the top funnel, rather than other steps of the business process.
By determining your #1 priority, you create a roadmap for all other initiatives and projects.
Make a List (of everything)
You may be rolling your eyes at me right now, but you’d be surprised how many people skip this simple step, even though it’s the first step of almost every method of time management you can imagine.
Whether you go the traditional route and use pen and paper or you download a productivity app, write out everything that needs to be done.
You might feel overwhelmed at the beginning, but just lay it all out on that list.
Take some time to read through it and determine which tasks are the most important. If you’re having difficulty, next to each task, label it with a number from 1-10. A rating of one means that it will not make a difference whether you complete the task within the next day or the next month, or you might be able to delegate the task to somebody else.
On the other side of the spectrum, a rating of 10 means that you need to get moving on this task ASAP. Remember to be honest with yourself; not every task should be rated a one or a ten.
This allows you to see the big picture right in front of you and to determine what you need to focus on the most.
Yeah, I know this sounds basic, but trust me, it works.
If your linear list is too long or overwhelming, try the Eisenhower Method of Time Management. Eisenhower is famously credited with the quote, “what’s urgent is seldom important, and what’s important is seldom urgent”.
This strategy promotes prioritizing by dividing all of your assignments, projects, and tasks based on their level of criticality and urgency.
Here are the four categories:
- Critical and Urgent
- Critical and Not Urgent
- Not Critical, but Urgent
- Not Critical and Not Urgent
Below is a picture that sums up this concept:
When you divide your tasks or projects in this manner, you single out the items that are both highly urgent and highly important. By focusing on these tasks, you can ensure you are doing high-impact work.
Helpful Tip: Use the ratings from the list you made above to help decide the proper placement of each task.
Find out exactly what you are already doing right and what you are wasting your time on. A great way to do this is by doing a retroactive project analysis.
Similar to the Eisenhower Method, divide events and actions into the following categories:
- Planned and Successful: These are the initiatives that were carried out flawlessly. The time and effort that you put into preparation was well worth it in the end. The events that you would add into this category are those that you want to try to do again or replicate. This is the category where you give yourself a pat on the back and say “Keep up the good work!”
- Unplanned and Successful: Unanticipated events that occurred that drove you closer and closer to your end goals. We are not always lucky enough for these types of events to occur; however, closely inspect their causes and try to recreate them.
- Planned and Failed: You spent way too many resources on this project to attract more customers and in the long run, it did not do you or your company any good. Stay away from any similar projects that might have the same devastating results.
- Unplanned and Failed: These are the unfortunate things that you did not expect to happen that did not bring you any closer to the finish line. Think about it through this real-life situation (this has happened to me, twice). You finally got your family room redesigned: new carpeting, new furniture, and freshly painted. A terrible thunderstorm takes place and floods the entire room. Try to stop similar events from happening again by working proactively to prevent their causes
When you conduct a retroactive project analysis, you might not feel like you are prioritizing, but you most definitely are. By determining what works and what does not work, you give yourself more time to accomplish what will get you closer to that finish line.
Focus on One Thing at a Time
This is probably the most straightforward tip of them all.
Stop multitasking. Stop trying to do multiple things at once. None of us are superman or superwoman. It is impossible to work on one thing, then be disrupted, and start working on another.
In fact, this is a recipe for being counterproductive.
According to the Zeigarnik effect, when we leave tasks unfinished, they linger in the back of our minds and cause us to feel distracted. This means we aren’t utilizing our full cognitive capacity or working to the best of our ability when we don’t finish what we started.
Use the techniques above to decide which tasks you need to work on first and foremost based on their criticality and urgency.
Then, keep your attention on one task at a time, give that task your all, and move on to the next one.
Understanding how to align and manage priorities is key in order to complete your massive list of tasks. Managing your priorities efficiently allows you to get ahead.
So think about your goals, determine what you need to do in order to achieve them, and prioritize accordingly. Try out these different approaches and knock all of those items off your to-do list (and maybe even have some time to take a breather).
What are you doing to make sure that you are focusing on the right thing(s)? How can you improve on letting of the things that are holding you back and work on things that produce better results? What else have you done to be more successful with your time and energy that you can share? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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Image Sources: acclivityperformance.com