Not all Priorities are Created Equal

Many clients ask me how I manage to juggle so many competing priorities—they seem to think that I’m always multi-tasking. My response is that not all priorities are the same and you can only work on one priority at any given time. Let me explain.

If you feel as if you have many priorities that all need to get done at the same time, you know that it is impossible to do them all simultaneously; let alone do them all well. So what is the solution?

The solution is to prioritize your tasks based on their long-term importance and short-term urgency. The goal is to focus first on those tasks that are important. Then evaluate the “urgent” tasks to determine the true nature of their urgency. You may be surprised at how few urgent tasks are truly urgent. And some may have little importance, as well!

Writing down your tasks allows you to see them in front of you and provides you an opportunity to evaluate them. Also, by writing things down, you get them out of your head—this eases the burden of “mental clutter.”

Here’s a simple “priority matrix.” This matrix was originally introduced by Dr. Alec Mackenzie in his book, The Time Trap.

Here is how to use the matrix:

  • List 10 tasks you need to do tomorrow.
  • For each task, assign a rating for Long-Range Importance and
    Short-Range Urgency, as follows:

1 = high importance or urgency

2 = medium importance or urgency

3 = low importance or urgency

  • Add up each row’s Long-Range Importance and Short-Range
    Urgency to get a “Total.”
  • Using the number in the Total column, rank your tasks under “Priority.”
  • The category with the LOWEST TOTAL is your #1 Priority and
    it should be done FIRST.

 Here is an example of the completed matrix:

What is evident in the matrix is that there are several priorities with the same rank (e.g., five tasks show up with the priority 2). When this occurs, take the competing priorities and re-prioritize them against each other until you end up with a list of priorities that can be handled one at a time. If this cannot occur, then speak with your executive and let them determine which priorities come first. Alternatively, delegate, so that the work can get completed in a timely manner.

Prioritizing your work comes down to your ability to plan your day and stick to your plan! Consider that for every hour you spend in planning, you will save three hours in execution. You can see that it pays to prioritize and work on your number one priority each day.