Tools for Prioritization-Introduction

Prioritization is the ability to make the best, most effective use of your time, ability, and resources as well as those of your team. When you feel like work is never-ending and time is at a premium, prioritization is what will help you spend your time wisely and move forward on the goals that are the most important.

At its simplest level, prioritizing is straightforward. You simply determine the criteria that are most important to you and most related to your goals and then use those criteria to order the tasks that you have in front of you in terms of priority. For example, you might choose to work first on the project that:

• Is most likely to be profitable
• Has to be finished before others can move on with their work
• Is most important to your supervisor
• Has a budget allocated to it already
• Has the necessary tools readily available

Yet not all situations that require prioritization are this simple. In many cases, we are making the decision regarding what to work on first when many things seem important. In the rest of this chapter, we’ll review several tools you can use to help you prioritize your work load. Let’s start with a tool for considering what is truly important versus what is simply urgent.

Important vs. Urgent

We’ve all had it happen. We’re having a good day, getting our work done, when someone calls or rushes into the office in a hurry. They have a fire on their hands and they want your help in putting it out. You feel the need to drop what you’re doing and dedicate your time to helping them with the latest crisis. You have to be a team player, right? And if the person asking for help is your boss, do you really have a choice?

Well, maybe you do have a choice. You need to learn to determine whether or not the sudden urgent request from someone else is truly important in relationship to your goals, your priorities, and your role in the organization. To help you do this, consider the chart in Figure 3. You’ll see that the chart is divided into four quadrants based on whether or not an item is important and whether or not it is urgent.
Looking at the figure above, in which quadrant would we ideally spend the majority of our workdays? In order to have the greatest job satisfaction and the least amount of work related stress, we would spend the majority of our time in Quadrant III. In this quadrant, we are not harried by urgent, pressing matters, but we are working on things that are important to the organization. We are able to make progress and move forward, feeling at the end of the day that we have accomplished a great deal.

That’s the ideal world. But where do we spend the most of our time in the real world? If you are constantly responding to the crises of others – even when they don’t actually have an impact on your own work or work product, then you are in Quadrant II. Everything feels urgent, but it’s not actually important. If you spend your day doing busy work, then you are focused in Quadrant IV, where things are not urgent and are not important. This can be a frustrating experience because you may not be able to feel as if you have contributed something of value at the end of the day. These could be distractions as well, such as talking to colleagues, surfing the internet, or other time wasters.

All of us are going to spend time in Quadrant I eventually. Whatever is at stake is actually very important to our own job or work product, and it happens to be urgent as well. What you want to learn to do is to distinguish these true emergency situations from situations that seem urgent but just aren’t that important.

Before you drop everything next time, ask yourself the following questions:

• Is this truly important or just urgent to the person requesting my help?
• What will the consequences be if I don’t handle this immediately?
• Do I actually have important and urgent things that should be done instead?
• Is there someone else who can handle this situation?

If you determine that the request for your action is actually not both urgent and important, then chances are there is someone better suited to handle the request. If you are receiving the request from your supervisor, you can ask her what she would rather that you focus on – the item that is both urgent and important, or the item that she has brought to you. Reminding her that you have other important work to do and that it will have to wait if you respond to her urgent request might have her reassign the request – or it might not. But at least you know that you are applying your efforts to exactly the activity that she wants you to handle at that time.


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