Prioritization: Achieving more in less time

Effective prioritization

1. Have clear your core purpose and macro objectives.

= provides the vision to prioritize from.

Prioritizing well is both an organizational and mental discipline. First and foremost the key aspect to effective work prioritization is having clear what are the overall macro company objectives and what is your specific role in achieving these. Without this clarity of mission (direction), you will find you lack a “vision” and a natural sense of direction what decision to take. Therefore having the answers clear to the following questions is key as a starting point to effective prioritization:

  • What is the overall mission of my company?
  • What is my (and) my team’s role in achieving this mission?
  • What do i concretely need to do to achieve this?

Know your company’s mission.

A handy tool for linking mission to day to day activity is the pyramid of prioritization. At the bottom is your core mission that provides the vision to move upwards and binds all objectives and actions. For example in the case of a language summer camp the core mission could be: “Run a fantastic summer camp that provides memories, experiences and learning that lasts a lifetime.” Above the core mission are the principle objectives; these are the goals that must be achieved in order to accomplish the mission. They should provide a more specific goal focus for an individual’s work.  In our given example, this could be: “Run an amazing English language programme that inspires students to speak English both inside and outside of the classroom”. There should be about 5 of these and ideally no more than 10. Depending on the size of the company/organization, these may be divided and assigned to different departments and/or managers to oversee. 

The work objectives of departments and managers should be connected to the company’s core mission.

Time Management and Prioritising - 2

Above those you have the work areas which contribute to the success or failure of the principle objectives. For example in our: “fantastic English learning” objective, the work areas would be: classes, English outside of class, the accountability system for English usage etc… Normally there would be 5-10 work areas that contributed to the success (or not) of each principle objective. Finally, most importantly, at the very top you have the actions that you, and the team you manage, do day to day to achieve success in each work area. For example a great class is only achieved via: effective planning and preparation for every class. Without a great class you wouldn’t get great English learning and without fantastic English learning you can’t claim to be achieveing your core mission of running a fantastic learning environment, hence the pyramid of prioritisation connects the mission to the here and now of day to day work

Great prioritisation links a daily action to how much it contributes to core mission of the company.

2. Group tasks by hierachy of prioritization.

= focuses you on doing the most important things first.

The second important aspect is to strive to judge the importance of tasks you have in front of you with a focus on planning, preventation and empowering. Understanding the task’s contribution to the principle objectives will help but it won’t be enough by itself, you will also need to start thinking  about the types of actions you do within a hierarchy of prioritization. We learned about a way of doing this in the blog post on quadrant II thinking but what is important for this blog post is to understand and recognise that the things we do each and everyday are not equal in importance and we need to be able to breakdown what things are…

  • wasting our time = Quadrant IV. Then STOP them.
  • side tracking us from our main objective and purpose = Quadrant III. Then limit their bad influence on us.
  • are essential to do right now or will have big consequence = Quadrant I. Start planning out how to prevent them always being “urgent”.
  • are key to providing the smoothest ongoing journey towards our end objectives = Quadrant II. This is where effective prioritisation lays and this is where you should spend your time.

The capacity to do effective quadrant II thinking (planning, prevention, mission development, empowerment, re-creation) is core to being one step ahead of problems and is a key technique to use in order to focus your time onto doing first the things that make the biggest overall difference.

Effective prioritization in management is focusing your time on the things that matter most.

3. Develop a “stack” of prioritization habits.

= turn prioritization into a habit of action.

Habit building is the act of adding one successful habit on top of another until your habits are controlling how you think and act. Every time you find yourself not prioritising as well you’d like, think why and try to dig deep to find the root cause, the overriding start point and reason for your own failure. When you have the root cause, ask yourself: “was there an action i could have done that could have resulted in a different outcome?” Nearly always the answer to this will be yes. When you have the root cause and understood the alternative response action you have a solution but if you want this solution to have a longer term change on your repeated actions, you need to identify a habit that will maintain that change in a longer term sense. Someone who prioritises well therefore has a sequence of success habits in built to ensure they do this. There are many success habits commonly associated with effective prioritization but some of the following are the most relevant:

  • Start your day refreshing your plan. End your day with reflection.
  • Group your tasks by themes (linked to your principal objectives), time block these into parts of day so you can move more smoothly from inconnected tasks with more mental agility.
  • Register your tasks as you think of them but during you planning stage reduce this list into a shorter success list, knowing why you are doing each thing.
  • Focus always on solutions and progress over making excuses. Be objective orientated not task.

Behind every natural prioritizar is a collection of well maintained good habits.

4. Reflect on how you use time and refocus and replan.

= redirect your actions, identify new improvement areas, helps you value your and other’s time.

Another essential part of prioritisation is reflection about how you use time as without stopping and thinking about how well you use time, you quite simply have no hope of changing your current prioritisation set up. At the end of everyday your should look at how things went today and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did you and/or your team spend your time today?
  • Was it planned out and spent pursuing clearly outlined objective or did you go with what come up? Why was this the outcome?
  • Could you have done something quicker? If so, how?
  • Did you spend time on the most important things? Were you left with not enough time to complete something critical?
  • Did you waste time today? Could you have done something about that?
  • What did you learn about good or bad time usage today?

The very act of questioning your, and/or your team’s, usage of time will make you place a higher value on it and at end of the day “time” is our most valuable asset. Without doing this excercise, it is likely you will fast fall into the excuse of never changing and believeing you do not have enough time to even improve your own prioritization, a classic mistake of inexperienced managers. The ideal reflection is one which asks hard questions about your usage of time and indentifies concrete action points to do differently tomorrowReflection and replanning is an essential part of having the end in mind, and if you don’t do it, you will likely find you neither value your time properly nor improve your usage of it.

To know whether you are being the most effective possible you need to reflect on your own usage of time

5. Believe in your mission and in your own improvement

= if you don’t believe you’ll find you lack the energy and desire to change.

The final point is it is vital that you believe in the purpose of this company mission and your personal role in it as without that belief in what you do, you will naturally find you lack the desire and energy to push yourself to be disciplined and prioritize success. By having your global purpose clear and believing in it, you can visualise success and this vision you can use as a mental guide to help your prioritise on a day to day level as well as motivation tool to push you to try harder. This commitment to your vision and purpose won’t help you do the practical work but it will help you to make better and faster decisions about what tasks to do and in which order.

Have your mission clear and believe in it!

Effective prioritisation is not straight forward to define nor achieve but if you strive to improve in it you will benefit from following these 5 steps:

  1. Have clear the company mprioritiseission and objectives and connect it to day to day work.
  2. Manage your tasks within a hierarchy of prioritisation giving focus to planning and prevention.
  3. Habit build so each time you have something that holds you back you replace it with a success habit.
  4. Reflect on your usage of time and refocus and replan accordingly.  Ensure you direct your energy, focus and most importantly time on what is most needed.
  5. Believe in your mission. No prioritization will work unless you believe in the purpose of the work you are doing.

Great managers achieve more in less time.


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