The 4 Demons of Prioritization

“Where did the day go? What did I get done? Why isn’t this to-do list shrinking? A work/life balance? What’s that?”

Ambitious, dedicated, and passionate professionals are constantly facing these questions. Not a single one of my clients is free from them; there’s always the “time management” question and the pressure to do more.  As it turns out, I am not immune to this issue either. Gah! So where does that time go? Having priorities in one’s work can greatly help with time/task management, but even with ‘priorities’, our time, energy, and efforts can go in unexpected directions. It’s time to explore the 4 demons of priority derailment.

Today was an excellent example of derailment for me. I had my morning nicely scheduled out with meetings, booked a break at lunch to get some exercise in, and would be home early for kids and a family meal. And yet by 8:30 AM, the day was already rearranged, the exercise class was off the books because of a new client call, and family dinner would have to be followed up by more work. What happened? I had the right intentions, the plan, the will and then… the priority demons arrived. Time to call these little fellows out and address them head on.

The 4 Demons of Prioritization:

1.       Everything is a priority
You have a list of the important things: your goals, projects, and hearts desires. Great! But what do you do when these priorities come into conflict with each other?  Priorities get shuffled or dismissed when your true values are not explicit. Values are the core criteria we use for decision-making. You choose to spend time on something because it’s important to you in some way. The question is, are you aware of your values at any given moment? If I am choosing to take a client call over going to the gym, it’s because responsiveness to another’s needs is the presenting value. But is it really? When confronted with a conflict, you should ask yourself if you are making the right value choice for that moment. Taking just a minute to reflect on the criteria you’re using to make decisions will help create a hierarchy in the prioritization.

2.       We overestimate our capacity
One thing I’ve noticed with leaders is that we sometimes tend to have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility or control. Too often we get caught trying to sort things out for our team or colleagues rather than delegating tasks. One key to making delegation more effective is to set it up properly. Good delegation means that the task is explicit, the outcomes are clear, there is a discussion of what is in/out of bounds in terms of solutions/resources/timing, and there is a plan for communicating at significant milestones along the way.

3.       We choose urgent & immediate over important & long-term.
Exercise is a priority for me that often gets compromised for two other things: my family or work. Rational arguments are easily made for why those two items trump my workout time, but the truth is I’m being reactionary to those demands.  I’m dedicated to enhancing other people’s lives, so when someone needs me, even if it isn’t urgent, I tend to respond accordingly. But that kind of behavior isn’t actually good for any of us in the long term. Strategically, it makes much more sense to make sure I’m well cared for before caring for others. Remember the oxygen mask instructions from the airplane safety tips? The trick to popping out of the ‘immediate’ into the ‘longview’ is to pause and ask yourself, “How will I feel about this choice later today? Tomorrow? A week or month from now?” or, “How many times have I compromised this particular priority and is it starting to become a longer term issue?”

4.       Techno Overload
How many tech devices do you have operating right now? How many different means of communication are you using? Slack? DM? Email? Text? Hangout? Not to mention the number of applications open right now on your computer screen. These all demand your attention in one form or another. My advice? Slay this demon by doing ONE THING AT A TIME. Figure out which devices are necessary and put the rest aside. If you start to panic at this thought or even argue with it, just ask yourself if you’re happy with your current prioritizing results? If you are, carry on with your techno multitasking. If you aren’t, try something different. The most successful professionals know that concentrated blocks of time, 30 minutes to multiple hours, on one task will produce better work and quickly knock things off your list.

Leaders have 3 incredibly precious assets: their time, attention, and energy. You make wise investments with your business budgets and resources so why not make wise investments with your personal time and energy? Taking another look at your priorities and understand the values/criteria behind them, realizing your desired & true capacity, having a strategic view of the future along with the immediate, and selectively using technology should all help you slay those 4 demons that attempt to steal your most precious assets!

Let us know what helpful tips you use to manage priorities. Comment below or contact us at here