The ability to set and, perhaps more importantly, to implement organizational priorities is a critical success factor for leaders. When there are dozens of things to be done, someone must step forward to bring order out of chaos. Too often, however, workplaces are filled with employees who feel discouraged because they are spinning their wheels, or frustrated by the lack of clear and consistent direction, or burned out because everything should have been done yesterday.
Here are some reasons why people find it difficult to set and implement priorities:
– Indecisiveness due to fear of making the “wrong” choice.
– Reluctance or inability to make hard decisions.
– Mistaken belief that good intentions are enough.
– Low level of importance or urgency.
– Lack of accountability – i.e., there are no consequences for non-performance.
Consider these facts:
– Priorities involve choices about how to use time.
– There can be only one “top” priority: by definition, there is a rank order to choices.
– Priorities are what you DO, not what you SAY you will do.
– When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
Here are ten ways to improve your ability to establish and implement priorities:
1. Realistically determine importance and urgency by asking and truthfully answering two questions: (1) “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I do/don’t do XYZ?” And (2) “Can I live with that outcome?”
2. Only people, things, and tasks that are directly aligned with achieving the mission or goals can be priorities.
3. Treat the setting of priorities as a resource allocation issue: develop realistic, WRITTEN time lines and schedules that indicate when you will accomplish what is needed to achieve each priority.
4. Use effective, easily utilized and understood decision-making tools (e.g., ranking, paired comparison, matrices, other forms of analysis).
5. Specify decision criteria BEFORE you start making choices.
6. Have someone hold you accountable for achieving your stated priorities.
7. Set your priorities BEFORE you make commitments that require your time.
8. Focus on the end result or “big picture.”
9. Identify a reasonable number of priorities at any given time; add others as you complete them.
10. Find a process that works well for you and follow it consistently.
If you could do only one thing to increase the quality of your life, it would be this: make self-care your #1 priority – not “one of the top” priorities or “a” top priority, but THE top priority. Why? Perhaps counter-intuitively, tending to your own needs enables you to do a much better job of taking care of others. There’s a very sound reason why airline flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before trying to assist others: if you pass out, you are no good to anyone, including yourself. In fact, you have just become part of the problem.
As an added bonus: the techniques suggested above work just as well in personal situations as they do in the workplace.
© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.