Prioritizing involves two steps: identifying the most important work to be done and making the time to do it. Organizations that fail to empower individuals to set priorities and act on them risk squandering their teams’ creative potential. Take these steps to ensure your people can get their most meaningful work done.
1. Eliminate interruptions
A recent study found that employees who started their days by planning how to manage their time were more engaged and productive at work—unless they kept getting interrupted. Nothing shatters a pristine plan to focus on what’s important like the constant pinging of emails, texts, and instant messages. Create a work environment where employees don’t have to be “always on.”
2. Take time to review
It’s easy to lose sight of your most important work when you’re in the thick of whatever’s happening now. Effective prioritizing means stepping back to gain perspective. But that only happens when you truly make time to step back. Help your teams get comfortable with the idea of taking time to review their priorities. They may feel like they should be “getting work done.” But clarifying which work needs to get done will make them more productive in the long run.
3. Be willing to revise
Revising is reviewing’s corollary. When you step back to assess what’s most important, you might find you need to adjust your priorities. That decision can be especially hard to make when a team has been heads-down in a task or project. But executing on what’s most important must also mean letting go of what isn’t. Don’t let the sunk-cost fallacy keep your organization locked into lesser priorities.
4. Don’t let deadlines rule
More than any other factor, the need that’s coming up soonest can warp priorities and obscure your most important work. After all, if a deadline’s approaching, then it has to be prioritized, right? Not always. Organizational triage demands making decisions that aren’t always easy. Urgent doesn’t always mean important, even if that means needing to ask for another day. Create a culture where it’s okay to “ask for an extension.”
5. Build a better system
Setting priorities and sticking to them isn’t about intuition. It’s not a talent that some have and others lack. Every employee can be put in a position to optimize their days to get their most meaningful work done when they have the right system in place for making priorities a priority. Institutionalizing the tools and workflows that prize what’s most important allows you to scale prioritization. Organizations can enable everyone to get the right work done.