It’s human nature to want to do more than what is possible. Whether it’s what you want to accomplish over the weekend, during the workweek, in your career, or in life, the reality is that you’re not going to be able to do it all at once. Time management systems can help, but they’ll never solve the problem, because no matter how productive you are, it’s impossible to do everything. This is why priority setting is so important.
When you’re a frontline worker, it’s easier to prioritize because your manager assigns you your work. Provided you’ve done everything you’re supposed to, if you’re not finished your work by the end of the day, it’s your manager’s problem. However, when you’re the manager, it’s your responsibility to know how much work can be accomplished in a given time period. Your ability to know how much man power and time it’s going to take to accomplish a given task is likely a large part of why you were hired.
The higher up in an organization you go, the more complex priority setting becomes because upper management works in longer time frames. So if you’re a VP, for example, you might be thinking of what needs to be accomplished in the next 3 or 4 years.
Key Ingredients for Successful Priority Setting
There are four aspects of effective management that are necessary for successful priority setting:
1) As a manager, it is critically important for you to have context that is set by your manager. Every manager must understand what needs to happen in order for their organization to achieve its strategic goals. A chain of context from the CEO on down is crucial.
2) There needs to be a clear accountability framework in place. When you have a crystal clear understanding of what you’re accountable for in a given week or quarter, it’s going to make it much easier for you to prioritize.
3) Planning is another key ingredient for successful priority setting. Before you can set priorities, you need to have a plan. That plan needs to reflect the plans of your managers and the organization as a whole.
4) Your number one priority should be completing the value- added work that only you can do. As much as possible, any other work should be delegated.
You can’t do it all, but you can do what matters. When you have a clear understanding of context and accountability and focus on doing your own value-added work, setting priorities becomes much easier.