Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Power of Prioritization, Selecting the Vital Few

One of the hardest parts of being a leader is making critical decisions when multiple projects and tasks are competing for your attention. On any given day, you might be dealing with an emergency situation, multiple high-priority projects and several decisions that will affect the fate of your company long-term.

If I had to take one lesson from my business experience it is without focus you are lost.  Infinity is not available to us in this life.  Time and money are limited and as such we must utilize these limited resources effectively.  I can see no way to achieve our objectives other than to utilize discretion, prioritization and selection.  For after all, some things are simply more critical and more important. 

The most effective leaders are those who can cut through the clutter to focus on what is most important. When individuals and teams are confronted by multiple issues, they often try to take them all on… at once. Because they are overwhelmed, they make progress on none of them. The result: inertia and a lack of change.

The job of management is to steer the focus of their organization towards those few vital priorities that will keep or bring the organization into alignment with the demands of its customers. Once these are identified, employees can then pinpoint the group, division, factory, department, or project gaps that must be closed to stay aligned with the strategic direction of your organization.

Most people use a familiar method of prioritization to organize their tasks, based on the urgency and importance of any given item. Under this method, urgent and important items are assigned the highest priority, and items that are neither urgent nor important items are the lowest.

In 1954, former U.S President Dwight D. Eisenhower, illustrated a task prioritization method when said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”  

It was this quote that created the Eisenhower Matrix; a 4-box system for organizing your tasks by urgency and importance, then getting them done.




The Eisenhower Matrix puts tasks into 2 categories, then prioritizes them for you. It’s a fast way to get everything in order at the start of the day.

The ‘Important’ Checklist:
  •  It will effect many people or projects if incomplete
  •  Other tasks depend on its completion
  •  It contributes a lot of value
  •  It’s low effort-high results (80/20 principle)

The ‘Urgent’ Checklist:
  •  It is overdue
  •  It is due soon
  •  It demands immediate attention
  •  The consequences of not doing it are immediate

You get results based on the things you focus on most intently. Regardless of how many things you want to accomplish, you must focus on the most important and let other things — which in the right context may be very good things — go by the wayside.

Pareto's Principle, the 80/20 Rule, should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of you work that is really important. Don't just "work smart", work smart on the right things.

From your long list, identify the top three to four and focus all your energy on those. When one is complete, pull another up to the top, but hold no more than four at a time. You will find that you get more done (and at a higher quality) by working on only four priorities at a time than you did when you tried to juggle ten or twelve.

Prioritization is also about learning to say no. Identify the things to stop doing in order to focus on the vital few. These 'must stops' require leaders to let go of their favorite projects, stop wasting valuable resources, and focus their own time only on the chosen goals.

The beauty of this method, however, is that it relies on your intuition. After you’ve been on a few projects, or swamped by an overpowering to-do list enough times, you instinctively know which tasks are your most important.

In the end, there’s not a complete mathematical formula for working it out, but there are some ways to make prioritizing your tasks a habit, and a skill you can hone to get work done faster.


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