In a previous post long ago I urged setting priorities even though everything SEEMS to be #1. Why don’t people set priorities? I think it’s because they don’t understand how to use them properly and fear they will result in critical work being back-burned forever. Not so – priority lists actually INCREASE the amount of work that gets done, as much as doubling it due to reduced waste from constantly jumping from task to task.
The purpose and use of priority lists if you want them to be effective:
- They are NOT intended to give people a reason ONLY to work on the #1 priority. Not every resource allocation decision is an either/or. Usually we should be saying “We can work on #1 AND #2 AND #3.”
- They ARE to be used, when push comes to shove, and EITHER/OR decisions needs to be made. “We can EITHER do #2 OR #3.” . . . in which case the choice is very clear, and can be made at the worker level without the delay of seeking guidance from the over-worked manager.
- They MUST drive behavior.
- They MUST be reviewed, reset and communicated periodically . . . so they are not perceived to be out of date.
- They MUST be easily accessible to everyone who is impactecd by the work – ideally on an intranet site, or better yet, as the screen saver on everyone’s computer!!
Setting priorities is one of the most clarifying things that a leader can do for an organization. You may find, as one of my clients did, that managers have little to do once they are not constantly reassigning resources to address what appears to be a constantly shifting urgent focus and sorting out disagreements over which fire to fight next. Grow a backbone and set them, or if you are on the receiving end, insist on clear priorities while you shovel against the tide!