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.
What is IMPORTANT?
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.
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 Chrissie@whitfieldfactor.com or give me a call on +64 21 769 826.