One of the most important leadership skills any leader can develop is managing priorities. In other words, using priorities to make yourself more productive.
When you face many demands on your time, it’s important to understand that not everything can or should get done. It sounds like a simple enough statement, but unless you fully embrace it, you will tend to feel overwhelmed by your workload. And that can make you less productive and a less effective leader.
The answer is to set priorities. Prioritizing is not about figuring out how to get everything done. It’s deciding what can and should be done and in what order. To prioritize you must first distinguish between what’s urgent and what’s important.
A quick search of “urgent vs. important” images will present you with an overwhelming variety of charts and graphs, lists and quadrants, illustrating how to arrange and attack tasks that you classify as urgent and important, urgent but not important, important but not urgent, and neither important nor urgent.
Study all the variations, if you like, but simply learning to distinguish between urgent and important is all you need to do to get started with prioritization. The rest sort of falls in place.
Urgency has to do with time pressure. Urgent tasks demand attention now, but not necessarily your attention. Customer demands, pressing problems, system malfunctions, management demands…
Urgent demands can come from phone calls, emails, texts, and deadlines that have been pushed back and put off for too long. Some task become urgent because you did not deal with them when they were “merely” important.
Importance refers to the consequences associated with an issue or task. Important tasks carry long-term, goal-related implications, compared to urgent tasks, which have short-term consequences.
Building better relationships with your team, peers, management, customers, suppliers, and all stakeholders is important. Coaching, personal reflection, long-term planning, problem prevention, and looking for and creating new opportunities are all important, especially for leaders.
If you recognize these things as the kind of tasks you find yourself forced to put off till later, you may have a problem with effectively setting priorities.
When you prioritize, you naturally want to address those demands that you determine are both urgent and important. Do those tasks that only you can do and delegate the rest. By definition you cannot defer or delete urgent tasks.
Your goal over time is to reduce the urgent demands on your time in order to focus on the your important priorities. Your objective as a leader, of course, is to rid yourself of as many urgent demands as possible in order to focus your valuable time on your most important challenges.
To practice setting priorities with other managers in your organization, consider our Time Management Custom In-house workshop.