Prioritization, or What is Really Important?

I’ve been blogging for over a year now, but it’s only been about the last 3 months that I started being really intentional about writing 2 or 3 times a week.

This last week, I only wrote once.

At first I was disappointed in myself.  I had set a goal of at least 2 articles a week and I missed that goal.  Sure, there were reasons – I was sick, I was busy with family situations – but it felt like it was all just excuses.

Looking back now, I’m realizing that only getting that one post in is ok.

If you go up to any single person in the organization, or heck probably this country, and ask them if they are busy, the answer will almost certainly be, “Yes!  I’m super, crazy busy. Look at all these things I have to do!”

However, upon closer inspection, and I mean you have to be really brutally honest…how many of those things absolutely have to be done?  Or at least, have a critical sense of urgency? It certainly might be to that individual, but if you have a strategic view across the organization, then what do you think?

Here’s a great example: Server X is down.  All hands on deck, a server is down, this is a critical Cat I issue, we need to stay here all night and slip all our other tasks to get this server working!  But what wasn’t really discussed or thought about was, that service isn’t really used, it’s being decommissioned in 30 days, there’s a replacement service in place, it’s part of a cluster so the service itself isn’t interrupted, and maybe it can wait until tomorrow or even next week to get fixed.

What really happened that I missed a post last week?  Yes, I missed a personal milestone and it made me feel bad.  But did the world end? Was there anything else in the critical path that was affected because I didn’t get that post written?  Meanwhile, the other things I worked on instead, what would have happened had I not worked on those things? The answer is, there would have been significant consequences.

Most people complain of having too much to do, but even if you, as their manager, help them prioritize their todo list and reassure them, that item number 12 of 15, it’s fine that you’re not working on it, we have made the strategic decisions that this item will just have to wait until 1 to 11 are done, will still feel the need to brood over item 12, and perhaps still try to shoehorn in some work on it.  And then feel busy and stressed and complain about being busy and stressed.

It’s a cliché, but “If everything’s a priority then nothing is a priority”.  You have to be able to made the cold, hard decisions on what the priorities are and work on them, and if someone else doesn’t get done, well then it doesn’t get done, and there’s no sense brooding about it.

One of my favorite anecdotes, I can’t remember where I heard it from, is this:

There are two kinds of people in the world.  Let’s say you have a list of 10 things to do that day.  You get 8 done. Type 1 goes home, puts their feet up, and congratulates themselves on a hard day’s work getting those 8 things done.  Type 2 goes home and broods over the 2 things they didn’t get done.

I am starting to believe that more people should be Type I.  Be thoughtful about your prioritization, intentional in your work on those priorities, and satisfied with completing those priorities.

Yes, this can be hard, because you might stress over those things that aren’t getting done.  But if you can be brutally honest with yourself about what is a priority and what isn’t, then you can find not only your productivity will go through the roof (because you’ll be focused on only working the priorities and not be sidetracked) but also the overall strategic momentum will increase because the priority things will actually start getting done.

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