Setting priorities is a decision-making process by which you rank in order of importance the tasks you or your staff members must do. By completing the tasks on your list in order, you will achieve your goals. It sounds easy – but it’s not. In fact, priority-setting and sticking to the agreement you make with yourself will be major challenges for you as a manager. Here are several important suggestions to help you draw up a priority list – and make it work…
1. Address management problems first.
Give top priority to any problem on your list that is making you ineffective as a manager. If, for example, you have a personal conflict with your superior or your personal assistant, your effectiveness in dealing with other priorities could be seriously hampered. Face such problems immediately; get them out in the open; and devise solutions quickly.
2. Group your priorities meaningfully.
It is sometimes possible to prioritise your daily goals and save time and effort. For example, by postponing an inspection of new equipment in the factory block across the parking lot until after lunch, you might find that you can do so after a scheduled mid-afternoon meeting with the factory supervisor. You may even be able to accomplish a couple more of your goals for the day during that one trip.Sensible planning brings its time-saving rewards.
3. Do it – or remove it.
Don’t let an item become an irritation to you. If a task has been on your priority list for a long time, deal with it immediately or delete it from the list. If it has to be done, do it. If not, get rid of it; make room for something more important.
4. Resist chopping and changing.
Continually changing priorities will get you nowhere. If you start something and then switch to something else, you will soon lose motivation. If a task is near the top of your list, it’s worth completing. Management consultant Ivy Lee’s often repeated advice to US industrialist Charles Schwab is relevant here: ‘Dig right in on priority job number one and stick to it until it’s done. Tackle job number two in the same way; then number three; and so on. Don’t worry if you finish only one or two by the end of the day—you’ll be concentrating on the most urgent ones.’
5. Balance your priorities.
But by focusing on a major, very time-consuming task which you have placed at or near the top of your list, you can sometimes neglect others, causing further problems in the long run. Keep all your priorities in mind and avoid this confusion.Ivy Lee’s advice – to stick at priority number one until it’s completed – may well be wise counsel for some managers, but it pays to be flexible when focusing on your top priorities.
6. Reassign priorities when necessary.
When a task proves so difficult that an immediate solution is not possible, you may be compelled to take more time to consider the options. Move this item down the list where you can watch it but not forget it.
7. Follow up on your priorities.
Check daily to see that your priority tasks have in fact been completed and assess their outcome. Only when you’re satisfied can you then confidently remove them from your list.
8. Confront those difficult tasks head-on.
Don’t lower a high-priority task just because you’re afraid to face it. Playing for time doesn’t solve many problems. Your priority list will not serve you well unless you are honest with yourself and put the important (though difficult) things first. Once more, remind yourself of Ivy Lee’s advice.
9. Communicate all vital information.
If one of the tasks on your priority list requires communication throughout the workplace or office, for example, it should receive special treatment. Delaying such action could cause even more problems to be added to your list.
10. Treat your office like an operating room.
Surgeons don’t get interrupted: they are required to focus all their attention on the task at hand. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to do the same thing. Develop the mindset that, during certain hours of the day, you are ‘in surgery’ and cannot be interrupted – no phone calls, no meetings, no drop-in visitors. During this time, focus 100 per cent on your high-priority tasks.
11. Accept that you will always have a priority list.
Whenever you complete a task, another will appear to take its place. As a manager, that’s what your job is all about. If your list gets too short, you’re simply not involved enough in the life of your organisation.Finally, let your priorities determine your schedule. Don’t let your schedule determine your priorities.