How to prioritize and why you should do it
When I run courses on Time Management I always ask people what it is they need to learn about. A topic that never fails to come up is prioritization.
People really struggle with this task. It’s a vital skill in many areas and for many roles. Recently a candidate in a recruitment I was helping with did a task on prioritization and gave one of the best answers I have ever seen to a prioritization task. Here is part of it:
“It would help to see your mission statement.”
No one else has ever asked for that.
Prioritization depends on what you are trying to achieve. Once you know what that is you can identify a set of criteria to help you carry out your prioritization.
The problem is further up
The problem for many of the attendees on my workshops is that the people further up in
their organizations don’t know what their priorities are. This makes it impossible for those further down.
Even worse are places where the priorities are constantly changing. This is one of the best ways to reduce anyone’s performance. If you have worked for someone who keeps changing their mind about what they want you to do, I won’t need to tell you how bad it can be.
Prioritization is about being able to make decisions easily
You have to be able to look at a task and decide if it is a priority or not. To do this, you need clear criteria. It’s like having a sieve to put everything through.
Not being able to prioritize
People in this situation often dither or change their minds, which can lead to nothing being achieved – a very frustrating situation for everyone.
To find out what the criteria are in a specific situation, first identify your objective (what you need to achieve) and then ask yourself:
“What’s important about this?”
Let’s take a simple personal example. Let’s say you need to buy a pair of shoes. Ask yourself: “What’s important about the shoes?” Depending on the situation it could be all kinds of things. In my case it would be things like:
I can walk easily in them
They match a specific kind of outfit
I can drive in them
They are within a specific budget (OK, I admit I don’t use this one very often….)
I can get them by a specific date
They will last for years (this is a constant one for me)
They are flat
They are waterproof
If the team you are in is clear about its objectives and priorities you will find life is much easier. It means people can immediately decide what to do in virtually any situation.
The results you can get with effective prioritization
Many years ago I was fortunate enough to see this skill ably demonstrated by the new manager of a university library. Running a university library can be a thankless task. Liz sent a memo round to all the department heads in her first month explaining to them all what the priorities would be:
Month 1 – Finding out from all the department heads what they needed from the library
Month 2 – Working out a plan to meet their needs, when she would send them a copy of that plan. She asked them not to bother asking her to do anything else during that time. As a result of this there was much moaning and grumbling.
However, within six months she had changed the library beyond all recognition and my colleagues kept coming up to me and asking me if I’d been to the library and seen just how much better it was. (Sadly none of them made the link between her prioritization skills and the improvements.)
By prioritizing Liz was able to get her whole team focused on achieving each step of the plan at a time, which turned out to be much more efficient and effective than the bumbling random efforts of other colleagues.
A small amount of effort up front can make a big difference
It can be a bit tedious putting the effort in at the beginning to work out your priorities and your criteria, but it pays off. You end up achieve more for less effort. That’s got to be worth it.
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