Make Prioritization a Priority

Usually, work slows down this time of year—Summer Fridays roll around and people head out on vacation, giving you a chance to catch up on projects and do a little advanced planning for the next quarter.

But not this summer. Everyone we’ve spoken to has said that their workload has been constant; in fact, they might be even busier than before. And while this is a great problem to have, it’s also a challenge: fall is just around the corner, which means there’s going to be a last frenetic push to achieve 2017’s goals before the holidays.

We don’t mean to stress you out; if anything, we feel your pain. Our Weekly Status board has a dedicated “Backburner” list, full of tasks that we’d really like to do, but that somehow always get relegated to “later.” At our offsite, we’ll evaluate these tasks by asking ourselves the following questions:

  1. Is this really a priority? Whether through a conversation with a client or via something we’ve seen in the news, many tasks originate from us thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if…” But just because a task is cool or even potentially groundbreaking, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right decision. Review your strategy to see how, or if, each task ladders up to the bigger picture. (And if you need to refresh your strategy, try this planning exercise.) If the team disagrees about how a task is prioritized, lead everyone through a “conga line” exercise, which gives everyone a chance to talk through why they think a particular task is worthwhile.

  2. Do we need to break this down? “Make no little plans” is inspiring, but more appropriate for your organization’s vision statement. If you want to get things done, you have to make tasks manageable—even “small” tasks like “Envision 2018-2019 marketing strategy” can sound intimidating and difficult to know where to start. Determine if the tasks on your backburner are the right size, and if not, divide them into simpler tasks.

  3. Have we scheduled a kickoff? If you’re still struggling to break down ideas into the first step, it may be time to schedule a project kickoff. This is also a good opportunity to discuss task ownership. By clearly defining the work ahead and assigning owners, everyone knows what’s expected. Just as importantly, if progress stalls, it will be discovered quickly, as opposed to being a surprise months down the line.

  4. Are we being realistic? If your team is pro-active and engaged, you might have a different kind of problem: everyone wants to pitch in, and no one wants to say no to a great idea. But even the best teams face limits on their time and energy. Have an honest conversation about whether or not individuals can take on these tasks, and review their workload during your regular 1:1 meetings.


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