Priority Management Not Time Management
I’m always looking for ways to be more productive while simultaneously reducing stress. I hate stress. Well, that’s a lie. I love stress but only in small, digestible pieces. Too much stress and my brain short-circuits, I can’t get anything done, and what I am able to accomplish is second-rate work. It’s a balancing act and I’ve learned that it’s not about time management; it’s about priority management.
There is a fundamental difference between managing time and managing priorities. We all have the same 24-hour day unless you are an astronaut on the International Space Station and then your day is only 90-minutes long. Let’s continue on the premise that you are not an astronaut and are constrained to a 24-hour day. If I’m simply managing my time, I note all the activities that I need to complete today and then schedule time to do them. Most of the time, I don’t complete all of my actions because my list is longer than my day. Additionally, I have things I need to complete in the future but I can’t start them until next Monday or December 3rd or the day of the wedding. Therefore, I need a way of listing those activities on the day it needs to be done.
There are three things to note from the paragraph above. I’m operating under the guise that all my activities:
- Carry the same urgency
- Are single-step actions
- Must be performed in a linear fashion
You may instinctively prioritize your actions, break complex tasks into actionable steps, and identify items that can run concurrently. Or, you may be packing your day full of activities that aren’t moving you toward your ultimate goals. As always, you have to establish your goals before you can truly prioritize your work and get your work-life spectrum in balance. (Click here for more information on setting your ultimate goals.) Again, let’s continue on the premise that we have a clear vision of our goals. There are a few questions to help you manage your priorities.
Does this activity propel me toward my goal?
This is a simple question but it is really hard to answer truthfully when you are dedicated to your business, profession, or project. An unbiased coach, mentor, or trusted friend can help you gain perspective and tease out the activities that don’t add value. As an example, the owner of a house cleaning business may spend time and energy creating an online presence with a personal website and Twitter and Yelp accounts. Her target customers are the retirees living in the area. Unfortunately, few retirees find house cleaning services online or follow businesses on Twitter or Yelp.
The time spent on cultivating an online presence for this demographic might be wasted at this point in your business. Your time would have been better spent building relationships with your target audience in the communication channel they frequent. Examples of targeted communication include leaving information brochures or cards at their door, donating some of your services at an event with high attendance from your demographic, or optimizing an USPS mail campaign.
Is this a high-priority activity?
This is an activity that moves you toward your goals. Now, we need to determine the urgency. Is this something that must be taken care of right now. Urgent activities should not exceed 10% of your total To-Do list. If you have a large preponderance of Urgent tasks, you may need help prioritizing tasks or delegating and outsourcing. This is a perfect segue to the next step …
Do I have to do this or can I delegate or outsource it?
You have decided that a particular activity is essential to your business. The next question is to ask whether you have to actually do it. You are the perfect person to build relationships with your customers so you should definitely ‘shake hands and kiss babies’. You are the perfect person to establish your strategy and map out your tactics. Focus on your expertise. Anything outside your comfort zone should be subject to delegation and outsourcing.
If you are a writer, you are the perfect person to write your bio on your website. If writing is not your forte, delegate to an employee or outsource it. Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and Fiverr are just a few of the match-maker sites that pair up freelancers with people who need work to be done. The work that can be outsourced is virtually limitless so check out some of these companies to see if you can outsource bits and pieces of your business. I’ve used some of these services to create logos and edit content. I typically get great work and the turnaround is fabulous!
How many actionable steps are there and how long does each step take?
Break down your more complex tasks into smaller, actionable steps. Wedding planners break down the ‘Big Day’ into discrete segments such as venue, catering, photography, invitations etc. Each of these segments are further divided until each task is actionable. Take invitations as an example. The actionable steps include building the guest list, downsizing the guest list, finalizing the guest list, choosing stationery, selecting the font, crafting the message, editing, ordering invitations, addressing the envelopes, mailing invitations, and capturing the RSVPs. Many of these tasks can be done on the same day but breaking them into small pieces creates momentum and allows you to walk away from a project without feeling like you will miss a step.
Try estimating the time it takes for each step. This helps you to schedule tasks and keep you from putting two long tasks back-to-back.
Can any of these steps be rearranged or run concurrently?
Going back to the wedding invitation illustration above, there is no reason these steps must be done linearly. We can build the guest list and pick out stationery simultaneously. If you choose to run activities concurrently, have a kick-off meeting so everyone involved in these tasks are on the same page and know how their input affects others in the process.
These are some of the ways to manage your priorities. How do you manage priorities?
Next week, we will showcase some of the priority management tools on the market.