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A beginner's guide to priority management

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Today's world is a busy place; putting pressure on people to develop, plan, market, execute, and evaluate all of the things they're responsible for. We're told that multi-tasking doesn't work, but then handed assignments and departments that are multiple-priority driven. It’s a very waterfall-agile space, especially with the demand on personalization and the hope that we’re all scrappy, entrepreneurial businesses that can do amazing things with a stick of chewing gum and a paperclip. (I mean, cause MacGyver totally did it. And think how far we've come since then.)

But multi-tasking has been proven to be a myth, so let's talk about how you can manage those priorities one at a time.

Totally transparency though. I haven’t really figured it out. BUT! I did try out some interesting changes to my routine and you know what? Each day I’ve been nearly inbox zero (it’s like inbox 2, but gosh that’s the closest I’ve been in a while) and on top of my priorities in a great way. So, for the next 30 days, we’ll try this guide out and report back.

You in? Yay!

First, give yourself a permission to actually not achieve inbox zero

Listen, I’d love to get all of my email read every single day. However, I did something unique on Monday morning. I didn’t open up my email or check my phone email until I accomplished my first two projects on my to-do list. Between meetings and those projects, it was almost noon and then I was off to a lunch meeting that lasted until 3.

Did my palms sweat? Absolutely, but 99% of the people who I do business with have my cell phone. And, it makes me rotten, but I feel like if they’re perturbed enough or panicked enough to need an immediate answer, they would pick up the phone.

And because they're all busy professionals, they'd also likely forgive me if I didn't answer their call right that minute because I was doing something else. 

I did the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday, and today, I’m actually halfway down my to-do list for the week. It’s not a lot of progress in the overall scheme of things, but I do feel more accomplished even though it was awesome and terrifying all in the same moment.

Second, don’t over-book your day (week, month, quarter, year, cycle)

We all pretend that we control our days and our time. When you think about it, do you really, though? If that destructive hurricane that recently hit the Bahamas or the current crisis in Greece has anything to say about it, it re-affirms that all we know for certain is death and taxes.

A business financial forecasting cycle can be a wicked one. We’re making projections based on historic numbers and crossing our fingers sometimes that statistics and an economic bell-curve holds. Be strategic about how you plan the pieces of your meetings and events. Just because you did it like that this year (or for 40+ years prior, whatevs) doesn’t mean you always have to do it that way.

For your personal and in-office time, be strategic as well. Just because you work in a high-pressure role doesn’t mean you have to burn the candle at both ends ALL THE TIME. Reserve it for on-site when you can’t get away from it. In the office and at home, set boundaries for yourself.

I struggle with this all the time. I wake up and think, it’s a brand new day so course my amazing scarf of the day has transformed into a super-hero cape that allows me to turn back time and do three meetings in one time frame. Except, only Hermione can do that. And even then, the silly Death Eaters screwed the pooch for the rest of us there.

Pace it. Give yourself time in between calls. The rest of humanity (and those at the end of your day whose meeting is invariably pushed back cause your five minutes behind at 9 am is now 30 minutes behind at 3 pm) will thank you.

Thirdly, remember that thinking, fast and slow is important

Someone wise said to me this week, sometimes you just move and think faster than those around you. It doesn’t mean anything detrimental, it just means, I move at a different pace. Which means those around me, move at their own pace too.

For customer's service sake, remember that we’re in the business of people. Without the people, we don’t have anyone to educate or to have events for or sell our products to. And even when we aren’t the fondest of people or the people’s behaviors, we must remember that we are customer and client service driven. You think you don’t like the people’s pace? Imagine how you’ll feel when you have no dollars. That’s very sad too.

Fourth, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks (or is it stones, I can never remember)

It’s okay to say you’re frustrated when the priority game doesn’t go your way. No one likes it when they don’t come first in line. But are you treating people how you want to be treated?

In my hometown church, there’s this wonderful woman who used to run the County Extension office. She also does the children’s church segment and without fail, for 30+ years, her lessons have centered on the Golden Rule. It’s a simple concept that is so crazy hard to do.

When you or your priorities are constantly getting brushed aside, you might take a step back and look at why. Is the project team you’re working with overwhelmed or have something immediately in front of them that has to take precedent? Are you being unreasonable with your demands? Are you thinking too fast or too slow?

There’s any number of questions you could ask yourself and remembering our third rule in the complete guide to priority management awesomeness, we remember that we’re people-based. And people treat one another that way that they’d like to be treated.

Finally, remember that sometimes the appearance of, rather than the actual execution, is just as important

This doesn’t mean don’t do the thing. Do the thing. Especially within the thing’s time frame.

What I am saying, is that people need to be reassured. Especially people whose jobs, image, self-worth, or whatever it is that they’re measured on or measure themselves on is based. It means that most of the time, people need reassurance that you’re doing the thing.

I still struggle with this, because I assume we’re all adults and we’re all going to follow through. I hate the confirmation email (you know, the one where you go, yep, got it or yep, sent it). To me, this is a waste of email and my time to read it. I assume you got it, or you would call me because the thing desired in said email didn’t move along the critical path as needed.

I am not everybody (see part three of amazing complete guide). Challenge yourself to think opposite of WIIFM and think about WIIFT (what’s in it for them?). What do they need? And most of the time, they need the check in.

Do the check-ins by phone, in person, by video conference, by email, and in triplicate. People who know me well know that that statement pains me to write it. But even as a small business owner or heading up a massive corporate conglomerate, you work for someone and that someone wants to know how it’s going. (And my grandmother is very proud of me right now, because it means her words to slow down and ask how so and so’s family is doing is finally sinking in.)

Also, who knows. You sometimes learn the most surprising things by checking in even for a status update.

Like, recently, someone shared that they think the live music we’re going to have at an event was going to be the best part of the event. And we didn’t realize they were actually wanting it in two places (the place that the live music was actually scheduled and the after-party) because we didn’t ask the right questions to get that expectation out of this person’s head (for instance, why wouldn’t you have live music at the after-party?). Had we not asked how it was going, we would have been in fire-fighting mode rather than proactive mode on-site.

Okay, so that’s the complete guide. Do you feel ready to tackle the world? Awesome, that makes two of us. Go with confidence!