Friday, 20 February 2015

Palatable Prioritisation

This year has started like a whirlwind – there’s so much to do, with eye-wateringly short deadlines (resulting in short tempers for some), and everyone is convinced that they have a right to pole position in the queue for my attention.

The Tornado Woman - oil on canvas, by Mark Bryan
If I am not to go pop or to tie myself in a knot, I have to prioritise, whist carefully managing relationships with those who are relying on me. So how do I do it?
  • Like many people, I write lists of all the tasks I need to complete and star those that are important either because of impact on the business or because of an time related factor that necessitates the task to be completed sooner rather than later. 
  • I tend to write a list as my last activity of the day/week - when the day/week's events are fresh in my mind. I then review first thing the following morning/at the start of the new week to "sanity check" my plans and confirm that the importance placed on each task is accurate and reflective of business/personal need.
  •  I diarise events and activities - I have in the past used a hard copy file that I put time specific tasks and relevant documentation into, so that, as I work through the weeks and months, the required tasks are not forgotten and are undertaken/completed in a timely manner. I now do this electronically, with early warnings and reminders. 
  • I continually communicate with others, asking people what else they are working on and how what I am doing fits in with/impacts on their plans.
  • I consider the anticipated time required to complete important tasks – I usually find that the more time needed to do a good job, the sooner the project has to commence, if I want to get it finished in a timely and professional manner. 
  •  I tell people what I am doing, to help set their expectations and sometimes this results in plans being changed and work being taken off my plate.
  • I make sure there is no unnecessary duplication, with someone else in another area also trying to do the same thing – one of us will be wasting our time. 
  • I sometimes have to remind myself that ”Good enough is often good enough” – so that I don’t feel that a piece of work has to be perfect when it is more important that it is done swiftly, it just has to be right, fit for purpose and of a standard that is acceptable to others.
  • I look at whether there are any areas/people where/with whom I can come to an agreement to compromise (on time or amount to be delivered) – by discussing the situation with others who are relying on me (and thereby letting them know that I can see that the outcome is important) it makes them appreciate that I am not shirking the task, and that I am trying to accommodate them in a way that suits both sides.
  • I look to see what I can delegate – it is often a good learning experience for someone in my team and takes a bit of the pressure off me.
  • As Sara said in her blog just before Christmas – asking for help is not a sign of weakness and by doing so you often build better bonds with others and make them realise that you value them and their skills.
  • I look to see if there is anything I can use to make a task easier – is there an App or a tool I can use (I’m much faster stringing and slicing beans with the French bean slicer my mother gave me than just using a knife)?
  • It is important not to be knocked off course by those who shout loudest or who are most persistent (or even annoying) - I have occasionally persuaded people to see sense by bringing small groups of people together to discuss and agree amongst themselves what the real business priorities are - this has the added advantage of making them aware of others' requirements and pressures and, if required, an understanding as to why there might be delays or a need to amend plans.

  • Change is a given - do not be afraid of amending your priorities or actions, if so required, when the situation in which you are trying to work changes, but be sure to inform others if things are going to be different, as it may have an impact on them.

  • I talk with others who have had similar challenges to see if I can learn from them – there are often better ways of doing things, problems that can be avoided or different approaches that might not have occurred to me. Do you have a coach, a mentor or know of an expert/experienced person who could help you?

  • I am learning at getting better at saying “No” – I hate letting people down, so it is not my natural response, but saying that you will do something and then  failing to do so is one of the worst ways of disappointing people.

Sometimes I try to prioritise by looking at a task or project from 3 angles – the cost, the scope and the length of time required to complete what needs to be done. You can seldom change one without impacting the others, for example, if I have 4 friends coming for supper on Saturday I can’t change the scope (we will eat supper together) but I could change the cost (for example we could go out to a local restaurant, or I could buy in a pre-prepared food or hire a chef for the night). Hiring a chef could also impact the time element, as two people can prepare a meal faster than one, especially if one of them is professional, which could free me up to do something else. Otherwise, if I need the time on Saturday and cannot afford a chef or a restaurant, I could prepare and cook after work on Thursday and Friday to make sure that I can put a meal on the table at the intended time on Saturday evening.

My final piece of advice may sound counter intuitive, but it does work – give yourself time and be kind to yourself. Sometimes it can be more productive to step away from the pressure and take a bit of time away for yourself. Many people have written about the benefits of yoga, or Street Wisdom or mindfulness. It is true that an uncluttered mind, free from distractions, is better able to come up with creative solutions. I find taking a walk helps me get things in perspective the ideas percolate through my brain, I have a friend who always goes to an art gallery when he needs to get things in perspective, my father fishes – he cannot fret about issues when he has to concentrate on not falling inn and decide how best to catch an elusive sea trout. I am sure, when you return to the problems they will feel less daunting and you will be the better for that and able to get things done.

Breathe - by Pink Floyd, from Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

Whirlwind - oil paining by Lisa Strazza


  1. I am an avid list maker and use the grid in my head to make decisions about what to spend time on. That said, the insatiable number of demands made on me tends to mean that I find myself with less time for what I call the core, and this is changing for me as well.

    1. How do you prioritise the grid in your head? The pace and variety of life means that we all have to make and change decisions daily. I learned much from many of the Advent Blogs where people came to conclusions as to what they value and hence should focus on first and foremost. Thanks for your comments.