Ever work all day only to find at the end that you feel like you accomplished jack squat?
I’m not talking about during March when you have a split screen of the NCAA Tournament.
I mean those days when you actually performed tasks and still didn’t get any real work done.
Sometimes you’re not to blame–the Feds announced a new regulation and you’re scrambling to meet the new guidelines. Or legal tells you the new advertisement makes superlative claims. Perhaps the printer just won’t print & sort (which happens primarily right before you are presenting, of course).
But the real saboteur of your progress–and cause of your frustration–might be a lack of priorities. You have work to do–but where to start?
Choosing what work is most important is work. When you’re drowning, you just want to find a way to the surface; but all the dog paddling in the world won’t help if your leg is stuck under a rock. You have to remove the obstacle and focus on the most important tasks with the greatest impact.
Where to get started? We’ve got you covered.
1)Methods to Help Make Choices & Prioritize at Work – Make a pact for impact – Promise yourself to work on what matters most and offers the biggest impact on your core objectives. Articulate your inspiration and how the work you take on will feed it – if it’s not helping you win, then it’s making you lose. And don’t forget to Keep 20/20 vision: Work on the 20 percent that adds the most value, keeping the next 20 percent in sight.
2) Think weights and measures – Be honest about the weight of the work you’re about to take on. How many resources will be required? Measure the amount of time you think it will take, then double it. If the new work still makes the cut, so be it. Such intentionality at least forces careful consideration versus flippant commitment.
3) Ask, “What’s the cost of knowing?” We often ask–or are asked–to do work just to cover the bases, because it’s something good for us to know. It gives us a sense of security. At such times, asking for everything isn’t exhaustive thinking, it’s exhaustively lazy thinking.
Whatever the cause, such careless requests can take many forms. It might be an ask for an analysis not rooted in a mission critical task. Or it might be a request for some research just to verify what’s already been learned (you probably don’t need another focus group to confirm that men can’t fold maps, for example).
We need to stop in such moments and ask, “What’s the true cost of knowing this?” It might turn out that the cost is too high.
4) Run your manager through the mill – This just in: your boss is often the source of new work creation. Assuming you have a good working relationship with him/her, respectfully ask a lot of clarifying questions about the new work. This can be hard to do; most of us are pleasers – but you must do it. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze, or you at least get the rationale behind the request so you can keep other doers motivated. Be clear on what the priorities are, and use those priorities to push back on work that is peripheral in nature. Help them to understand that you’re not shirking work; you’re shoring up work – the most important work that will make the biggest difference. Your boss might remain clueless, but at least you can say you tried.
You should also prioritize who gets to prioritize. Our workload balloons when lots of people get a vote on what we work on. Develop a work plan for you and/or your employees and align it with the one person who gets a say in what you work on. Then flow new work requests through this funnel.
5) Have a To-Do list and a To-Don’t list – When it comes to prioritizing and accomplishing tasks, it’s hard to beat the power of a good ‘ole To-Do list. Add one more thing to your notepad, right behind it, a To Don’t list. Write down the kinds of things that you want to avoid or that you tend to get sucked into. Your list serves as a reminder to, well, don’t.
6) Know that addition by subtraction really works – We all intuitively know what research confirms; when we choose to do less, we accomplish much more. Wishful thinking tricks us into believing that if we take on and do more, more will get done.
Don’t take the bait from your unreliable brain, but do take heed of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s brain (that relayed to his mouth) what’s come to be known as The Eisenhower Principle – the thing you should be taking on more of is the truly important, and less of the distractingly urgent.
7) When prioritizing, think Accordion, not Trash Compactor – Those who are experts at prioritizing tend to ebb and flow with the workload, expanding and contracting the workload depending on the conditions. The workload might expand during times of a big sales call, a key upper management review, or during a visit from one’s in-laws, for example.
Anyway, then the workload contracts in times thereafter to help restore energy – expanding and contracting, like an accordion.
Contrast this to the trash compactor mentality, which seeks to continually reduce and “squish” the workload into a smaller and smaller mass. On the surface, this would seem to be the definition of prioritization. The problem with this approach, however, is that it’s rigid, you can miss real opportunities to make progress towards your objectives simply because you are actually being too brutal in prioritizing.
A more fluid mindset is better as it gives you permission to take on important new work, but still forces accountability to counterbalance the total portfolio of work at some point with some disciplined “no’s” and workload reductions.