How to work out your priorities (at work)

When you have a deadline or a crisis at work it makes things kind of easy.

Not easy to get it done.

But easy to know exactly what you should be doing.

In these situations it's about the task at hand and surviving when you're really busy (which was the topic of an earlier blog post!) 

Others will be supportive of your focus and (usually) understanding of the fact that other things may have to wait.

But how do you prioritize how to spend your time on a day-to-day basis?

In regular times when you just have requests, tasks, emails, phone calls and texts coming at you from all directions?

Prioritizing what's important is really the only way because a) it's generally agreed that multi-tasking is not efficient due to the time and effort it takes to switch between tasks and b) we are all limited by that pesky little 'there are only 24 hours in a day problem'.

I think that you make a better contribution to your job, organization, business if you do less - well. Rather than lots of things okay.

People think that they want us to do a lot. But when it come to performance appraisals and your professional reputation - you are more likely to be judged as successful by how well you do things rather than how much you do.

Sometimes a process or framework can be helpful to work out priorities - and can also be shared (with your manager, your team, colleagues), if necessary, to explain and gain agreement on how you will be spending your time.

Here are some ideas of how you can work out what your priorities are:

Grab a coffee and write a to-do list.

Not up there as a Noble prize winning idea. But it works.

Taking some time to write a list helps you stop the ideas swirling around in your head - and you can stop worrying that you are going to forget something.

Even more importantly, when you see things written down it often becomes very clear what is most important. Sometimes they are at the top of the list - other times they are buried in between things like 'pick up the dry cleaning' and 'Email so-and-so'.

When the important stuff is written down it often tends to scream out from the page to you.

A quick peruse will often help you decide what you should do. If you need a bit more of a process - go through the list and number what order things need to be done.

And when you are looking at the list, ask yourself, "is there someone else who could/should be doing this?" If there is - ask - nicely!

Don't forget to go back and check things off when they're done.

Most satisfying!

Covey's Urgent/Important Matrix

Steven Covey, author of mega best-seller, '7 Habits of Highly Effective People' developed an urgent versus important matrix that he talks about in regard to the third habit of "Put First Things First."  (Is it just me or does anyone else think this is a bit ironic that this is the 3rd habit?)

I digress, because this is a great tool to map out the activities you have to do by categorizing them as:

  • Urgent and Important - Critical activities that must be completed to a tight timeline. Or that you left to the last minute (avoidable) or that someone else left to the last minute (may be unavoidable).
         Action: do them!
  • Urgent but not Important - basically the day-to-day interruptions. The time thieves of your day.
         Action: Manage to minimize.
  • Important but not Urgent - the important tasks to advance your work, business and professional career.
         Action: Make as make time for these as you can. 
  • Not Urgent and Not Important - distractions.
          Action: Avoid if at all possible. Say 'no' politely.

Rank what you have to do


There's any number of ways that you can rank the importance of what you need to do.

I quite like this simple question for everything on your plate ...

Is it a:
MUST do?
Should do?
nice to do?

Pareto's 80/20 Rule

The Pareto Principle says that 20% of work/effort/customers (it gets applied in a lot of different situations) produces 80% of the result.

If you can identify what you do that generates most of your return that is a pretty good indication where you should be spending your time.

Ask Your Manager

It may not be within your delegation to make the decision about where you will focus your time. Or you may simply need some guidance.

Either way asking your manager for their feedback and having them help set your priorities involves them in the process (so they will also be agreed on the outcome with you) and provides you with a knowledgeable source of information and feedback.

The time and effort to prioritize can seem like a big investment when you could be busy 'doing'. But the time taken to think and plan will pay off in clearing your mind and sharpening your focus.

I'm just going to cross 'Write blog on setting priorities' off my to-do list. Woo Hoo!

Have you got any other tips for how to work out your work priorities? Please share!

Let's chat...
- Karen




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