Priority Setting!


Some people are natural-born prioritisers. You know the type – those friends, family members and colleagues who live with a to-do list in their heads that they can call on and re-jig at a moment’s notice.

Not everyone is like this but everyone can learn how, and if you are a project or people manager it is all the more important to become a skilled priority setter. Your staff will count on you for guidance or just reassurance they are prioritising their own work in the best way.

But even the most crash-hot priority setter will need a moment when every task appears to be Number One, particularly during complex or multiple projects with looming deadlines. Project management software is a useful tool but it is just that – a tool. It still needs a human hand (and brain) to identify the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in priorities that just about every project requires.

Most experts suggest the following steps for successful priority setting:

What is URGENT?

Collect a list of all your tasks and identify which ones are URGENT versus those that are merely important. An URGENT task is anything that if it is not done immediately with have serious negative consequences. Then get it done, like now.


Of the tasks you have identified as IMPORTANT, put them in VALUE order, for example IMPORTANT work for clients should normally take priority over IMPORTANT internal work. Another way to measure importance is to assess the number of people who will be affected if the task is delayed.

How much effort will it take?

If you have identified more than one task with equal value, start on the one that will take the most effort to complete. It can be tempting to get the easy ones out of the way first but the spectre of the big task ahead will stress you out. However, if the task really is too daunting to get stuck into straight away, get a quick and easy one out of the way first to motivate you.

Can it be cut?

Accept that there are some tasks that are nice to have but that can be cut without any serious detriment to people or the project. This is where good management comes in. Staff who may feel unconfident about removing tasks may need guidance and support. The important thing is to identify quickly what the small stuff is and not to sweat it.

Life “Balance”

All the tips above relate to priority setting in a work context. But to achieve life balance, requires you to prioritise your whole life in such a way that you take good care of yourself and have plenty of time for the people and activities that make your life enjoyable.

Your personal priorities need to overlay everything else. When personal and work priorities are working in sync – that is when you feel comfortable and confident about what you know needs to be done first – then you have achieved a healthy life balance. Your stress levels will reduce and you, your colleagues and the special people in your life will be all the better for it.

If you or your team would like help to develop your priority setting skills, please contact me at or give me a call on +64 21 769 826.


Dealing with Conflict

Almost all workplaces involve contact with people with whom we might not choose to associate under other circumstances. That’s life, and learning to get on with those we don’t like or don’t share our values is part of being a grown-up. It’s also true that most conflicts can be resolved – even the very worse kind. It won’t happen overnight but with good will on both sides it will happen.

Chief Happiness Officer blogger, Alexander Kjerulf ( distils work conflict solutions into five essential points.

1.   Accept that conflicts at work are inevitable

Understand that conflict is inevitable and that there is no such thing as “winning”: Kjerulf says“[g]etting the outcome you want regardless of what the other person wants can be gratifying, sure, but the problem is that the underlying issue has not been solved.”

2.   Handle conflict sooner rather than later

The price of letting unresolved conflicts continue is high, resulting in hostility, miscommunication, inefficiency, stress and low productivity. All this will make you and your co-workers very unhappy so tackle the problem early.

3.   Ask!

If someone’s actions or words hurt you, ask them (nicely, of course) why they did what they did or said what they said. There might be a logical or at least satisfactory explanation. Don’t assume people do things just to upset you.

4.   Giraffe language

For long-running conflicts, Kjerulf suggests using “giraffe language”:

  • Identify with the other person what you see in neutral, objective terms
  • Apologize for your part in the conflict
  • Praise the other person and tell them why the conflict is worth resolving
  • Explain what the conflict means for you and for the company, and why it is a problem
  • Propose a good outcome
  • Ask for specific actions that can be implemented right away.

5.   Mediation

When conflicts become so entrenched and cannot be solved, a third, objective voice can help. This could be a trusted co-worker, manager, business coach or professional mediator.

How to deal with Horrible Bosses

When the source of conflict at work is your manager, the situation is trickier to resolve. A good boss will take on constructive criticism, but as we know not all bosses are good. Kjerulf suggests the following strategies for dealing with a horrible boss.

Assume no bad intentions

Unless proven otherwise, assume your manager does not intend to make you unhappy. He or she might lack emotional intelligence and appreciate advice on how to do better.

Classify your boss

There are three types of bad boss. Classifying him or her will provide you with the best strategy:

  1. Has no idea s/he’s bad: a polite but firm conversation with this kind of boss might be all that’s needed. In fact, pointing out your boss’s s shortcomings is likely to help the whole team, and increased happiness and productivity becomes its own reward.
  2. Knows s/he’s bad and wants to improve: A boss with greater self-awareness who genuinely wants to improve will welcome honest and constructive feedback.
  3. Doesn’t want to know s/he’s bad or doesn’t care: this type of boss is a lost cause especially if his or her line manager is not willing or able to address the manager’s behaviour. If escalating the problem does not result in a good outcome for you, do yourself a kindness and get out.

Address conflict sooner rather than later

Don’t be tempted to wait and hope the relationship will improve with time or your boss will leave. Early action is best.

Choose the right time and place to talk

Arrange a face to face meeting where you won’t be interrupted, and remain calm and professional. Explain how your manager’s behaviour affects you and your work, suggest ways to do things better, and follow up at a later date to review the situation together.

Praise managers when they get it right

You don’t have to be a boss yourself to do this. Most managers will appreciate positive feedback from staff when they get it right.

My personal tips for surviving workplace conflict until it is resolved:

  • Protect your good reputation by behaving well in the face of bad behaviour: remaining calm and professional in the long run enhances your reputation while those who create or prolong conflict will have their own reputation problems later on. Take comfort in the fact you are doing what you can to resolve the conflict.
  • Take good care of yourself: imagine you are your own best friend, treat yourself to flowers and facials (even you guys), and meet up with empathetic friends for lunch or an after-work drink.
  • Leave work problems at work. Your home is your sanctuary from workplace conflict – keep it that way.
  • Where you are being drawn into an untenable situation or feel that you are being provoked / manipulated into behaving badly yourself, as mentioned earlier, don’t hesitate to bring in a trusted co-worker, or manager to a) calm tension b) encourage professionalism or even c) become a witness where and when necessary.
  • If you have decided that there is nothing for it but to leave – do talk to your organisations HR Manager first. They will have a good handle on the organisation’s politics and people and may be able to offer some practical and qualified advice.

What Is YOUR Theme For 2017?

What is your theme for 2017?

Did you decide on any New Year resolutions?  If you are anything like me you will have given them a cursory thought and moved on to looking for somewhere with sun to enjoy anything remotely resembling summer!

But what about developing a theme for the year? We are into February and have had time to think about what we would like to achieve for the year. So how do we approach it?

Here are some ideas to help get you thinking about what you want, get creative and planning to design a theme for 2017!

Grab a pen and paper and take some time (just a couple of minutes a day would be a good start) to jot down some things that you would really like to happen this coming year.  What are your goals?

Some ideas:

  • A new career
  • Getting fit
  • Eating healthier
  • Travelling
  • Starting your own business
  • Being more social
  • Finding a hobby
  • Saving for something special
  • Getting your motorbike licence.

So to help you identify some goals think about the following questions:

  1. If you could have anything that you wanted in your life, what would that look like? Conjure up some images to help visualise a possible future state.
  2. What makes you happy? When you are doing something that you really enjoy that puts a smile on your dial, what is it?
  3. When you feel motivated and excited, what are you doing?
  4. When you were young, what did you envision you would be doing at this stage of your life? Do you have a Bucket List?  Write one!
  5. If you already have a Bucket List – what is the priority on that list for you?
  6. What do you have in your life that you no longer want or don’t want to do anymore?
  7. If you had the luxury of unlimited time and resources, what would you do?
  8. Is there anywhere special you have always longed to go?
  9. What new activities do you want to try?
  10. Is there anyone you would like to meet, or see?
  11. Is there a new skill you would like to try?

Designing a theme is actually less about having milestones and a detailed plan (quelle horreur!) and more about opening up your mind to new possibilities and new ways to enrich your life through experience and growth. It could be a moving feast of possibilities as you find a new hobby, become more social, meet someone special, and so on.

Take some time to review your answers and really think about which is most important to you in your current life – which out of all your responses, motivates and excites you?  What inspires you the most?

Take that and make that your theme for 2017.   Write it down where you can see it every day.  Feel it!

Support your theme by committing it to paper. What is it?  How do you feel about it?  What is the first step towards achieving it?  Who do you need to talk to, and where do you need to go to find out more information about the process?  Are there any books on the subject that might help?

Think about conceptualising the goal by creating a visual of your theme.  For example you might have decided to learn to ride a motorbike.  Your theme might consist of roads you want to ride, bikes you would like to buy (eventually!), contact details for ‘Ride for Life’ and other organisations that will help guide your learning.  Make it big, cut out pictures from magazines, put your visual where you can see it every day to remind you of how it’s going to feel when you achieve your goal.

  • Focus on the theme every day
  • Keep a record of your progress and any new ideas you might have
  • Update your visual if you have designed one
  • Go the library (or buy) at least two books on the theme that will help provide you with guidance and ideas or inspiration
  • Set up a budget to help support the theme.

Don’t let life pass you by. Own it, be daring, be different, be YOU in all that you can be.  It all starts here.


Why is it so hard to say NO?

The ability to say NO effectively is a very powerful tool yet it is easier for some people and not so easy for others – why is that?

How come I can say NO to anyone (other than my cute three and a half year old grandson!) and leave the recipient in no doubt as to the clarity of my response, whereas a good friend of mine can say NO in a myriad of different ways and it always seems to come across as a ‘maybe yes’?

To be fair, with my working background in prisons, I have had plenty of practice in the art of saying NO clearly and articulately whilst not undermining the other person (or people).  BUT I wasn’t always able to do this – over the years through trial and error I have gained a clearer sense of self-awareness around where I choose to spend my time and energy, with whom and doing what.

If, like the ‘old’ me, in your head the answer is NO but when you open your mouth it becomes a ‘maybe’ – consider the following:

  1. Be aware of your audience – who are you saying NO to?  Tailor your response and approach accordingly.  If you feel the recipient needs extra care – be gentle, yet assertive.
  2. Plan your approach, your words and be confident. If you don’t feel it, fake it until you make it (practice with a mirror or a trusted friend!).
  3. Don’t be afraid to be selfish – if you already have commitments on your time, money or energy, give yourself permission to deliver to those commitments.
  4. Say ‘I don’t…’ instead of ‘I can’t…’ to empower yourself. In a social situation, saying ‘I don’t drink’ when you are up against a strong peer group is much more effective and powerful than saying ‘I can’t drink’ but the former provides a sense of finality (acknowledging that you may have to repeat it several times during the night!). ‘I don’t have time to do this for you’ is much more effective and powerful than ‘I can’t see where I can fit that in’.
  5. Speak firmly and assertively. Don’t say ‘I don’t think I can’ or ‘I’m not sure if I can’.
  6. Back up the word(s) with body language. Sit or stand tall, nod and look them in the eye if you can.  Saying NO is not at all effective if you are face to face and nodding your head and/or looking at the ground while you are saying it.
  7. Now, empower yourself and go practice with a small NO so the big ones become easier and more natural over time.