It’s important to acknowledge that there is limited time available for any particular task or activity. It is artificial to assume that you can simply load down yourself, or someone else, with work in the hopes that it will “somehow get done”. There are only a limited number of hours in the day and each hour spent working must be appropriately planned to generate the maximum possible output.
At the beginning of each day, or business cycle, or project initiative, depending on how your work is arranged, there needs to be a great deal of thought given to the establishing of the order, or sequence, in which the work will be done, bearing in mind the need to do the most important things first. This is the process of setting priorities and ensures that at the end of the day you’ve made the greatest possible contribution.
Since we all seem to have work coming to us from various sources – customers, leaders, the priorities of others, our own initiative, etc – then we must have some way of ordering this work. The way to do so is to push each of these requests through the four filters outlined in our previous post on Setting Priorities – Key Criteria.
By reviewing each item against the degree of urgency for the request, the rank of the person making the request, the time it will take to complete it, and the impact or consequence it will have, you have created the best possible set of screens for sorting the requests and putting them into the most appropriate order.
This order becomes the priority list numbered from the most important to the least important, and then serves as the template for action. Start with the most important, and work through to the least important.
In the real world additional requests are also constantly coming in. The best approach in these circumstances is to set aside time to periodically review all the requests, and re-juggle your priorities. In practice, this means taking your existing ordered list, reviewing the recent requests that weren’t considered when you made it, and re-ordering your priorities. The only thing to bear in mind here is that you ensure that you do this re-ordering at the completion of a given task, not in the middle of one. There are only a very few set of circumstances (e.g. a true crisis) when the time is not available to complete the task that you are currently working on, or at least a reasonable portion of it, before re-ordering your priorities.
The rigorous application of these principles, that is the sorting of priorities against these four criteria, is the best way to ensure that your time is being maximally productive.