Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to improve your priority setting

Priority setting is a skill needed by all leaders, choosing a course of action and then ensuring each task gets done in the order and way you want is critical for your
success, you can only do this by setting the right priority for each of these tasks.

So much to do; so little time in which to do it. Finite resources; infinite needs. People to see, places to go, things to do. No time to say hello, good-bye, I'm late for a very important meeting. Sound familiar? That's life. Everyone has more to do than they can. Organizations have more opportunities than they have the resources to address. The higher up you go in the organization, the more you have to do and the less time you have to do it. Nobody can do it all. It's critical you have to set priorities to survive and prosper.

Be clear about your goals and objectives. What exactly is it you need to accomplish? Use your annual plan and the team strategic plan to understand the mission-critical things that must happen.

Using your goals, separate what you need to do into mission-critical, important to get done, nice to do if time permits, and not central to our goals we are striving to achieve. When faced with choices or multiple things to do, apply the scale and always choose the highest level.

Write down the pros and cons for each option. Check what effect each would have both on the short and long term. Are there cost differences? Is one resource more efficient than the other? Is one apt to be more successful than the other? Think about the interaction of both short- and long-term goals.

Sometimes what you decide to do today will hurt you or the organization later. When making either a short-term or long-term choice, stop and ask what effect this might have on the other.

Be time sensitive. Taking time to plan and set priorities actually frees up more time later. If you just go diving into things hoping that you can get it done on time and find you can't you may wind up in a bad situation. Often you here the cry failing to plan is like planning to fail.

Avoiding making choices often leads to more choices later on, to correct issues that should have been considered up front. Avoiding making choices actually makes life more difficult, as your always in uncharted waters, once a direction is set and you have a priority you know where you're headed.

Be effective rather than busy. Watch out for the activity trap. Effective managers spend about half their time working on one or two key priorities — priorities they described in their own terms, not in terms of what the business/organizational plan said. Further, they made no attempt to work as much on small but related issues that tend to add up to lots of activity. So rather than consuming themselves and others on 97 seemingly urgent and related smaller activities, they always returned to the few issues that would gain the most mileage long term.

Get help from others. When faced with multiple good things to do, pass them by your mentor or a few trusted others around you for their opinion. You don't have to do what they say but having other perspectives is always better than having only your opinion. What tasks can you easily outsource, to you team members or even outside. Perhaps outsourcing some tasks can free up crucial skills.

Setting and operating on priorities isn't a reflective task. Most of life's choices have to be made on the spot, without all of the data. Nobody is ever right all the time under that kind of pressure. Perfectionists have a problem with this. Wait as long as you can and then shoot your best shot.

Take care not to be guided by just what you like and what you don't like. That method of selecting priorities will not be successful over time. Use data, intuition and even feelings, but not feelings alone.

Be sensitive to the time of others. Generally, the higher up you go or the higher up the person you are interacting with is, the less time you and he/she have. Be time efficient with others. Use as little of their time as possible. Get to it and get done with it. Give them an opportunity to open new avenues for discussion or to continue, but if they don't, say your good-byes and leave.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas on how to improve setting priorities for your team. By improving this area our leadership will also improve as we can more effectively get the right tasks done in the best time.

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