The Power of Prioritisation

I had a very valuable conversation with a team member first thing this morning;

  • What’s on your ‘to do’ list?
  • How long will each thing take?
  • Can you put this list in priority order?
  • Can you put each item in your calendar?
  • Is it doable?

It took about five minutes. And yet it’s this simple conversation, with a boss or with ourselves, that allows us to get on top of work rather than have it get on top of us.

Here are the six key traps we fall into that lead to stress, anxiety and the feeling we might not be able to get everything done.

Trap One // Not Enough Organising

It’s incredibly simple. Unless we use sufficient organising tools we will never know where we really stand. Some people keep pages and pages of ‘to do’ items, meeting notes and have hundreds of unanswered emails. Personally, I favour the calendar as my storage area for ‘to do’ items. Why? It doesn’t lie. It’s not optimistic. Unless it’s in the calendar, in my mind, it doesn’t exist.

Trap Two // Estimating Issues

A task without a time estimate is useless. Developing our ability to accurately estimate the number of hours a task will take, allows us to continually hone our productivity skills. We often underestimate the true length of time a task takes. Try working backwards by considering the maximum time something might take and then decide how much effort you would like to invest. If it takes less time, that’s a bonus!

Trap Three // Saying ‘Yes’ When You Mean ‘No’

As social animals we are sometimes too keen to please, too respectful of hierarchy, too optimistic with clients so when asked ‘Can you do this today please?’ we want to say ‘yes’. But if we take a different stance, for example: ‘Thanks for asking me to do X. I also have A, B and C with deadlines for today, which would you like me to move to tomorrow?’ the conversation shifts to empower both sides to reach a mutually beneficial decision. We then stand to gain respect by proactively managing our clients and managers than we will by simply being a ‘yes’ person.

Trap Four // Putting It Off

Many of the people we work with seem to be busy, most of the time. Part of this is an addiction to the buzz of the last minute. I challenge myself and my team to get work done ‘as early as possible’. People who say they ‘need the buzz of the deadline’ should instead put the item in their calendar and impose their own deadline, which they aim to beat. This allows quality work, without the real pressure (and possible calamity) of being too close to a deadline.

Trap Five // Assuming You Won’t Get Everything Done

If we are really honest, most of us live with the assumption that we won’t do everything we have committed to. We are effectively leaky ships, taking on board ‘to do’ items, projects, or meetings, steaming to port, but more likely heading for the bottom of the sea. It takes a steely, focused mind to only take on board, and commit to, things you will actually do. For the rest, we should just be more honest at the start.

Trap Six // Working Late

I had an epiphany a few years ago: that working late is counterproductive. You see, if we add a couple of hours to our day, nearly every day, we just end up either taking on more work volume, or having less pressure to prioritise only what’s important. In some cultures, working late is seen as a sign of incompetence – not being able to get your job done in the allotted hours. Time bound approaches to prioritisation force us to focus on getting the greatest amount done in the least time possible – and mean that I have only worked late one day in the past year. iw