I once saw a sign on the wall in a junkyard that said, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

Another good one: “If everything is top priority, nothing is top priority.”

Once a week, I meet with my boss to discuss my progress for the previous week and my priorities for the coming week.   This is supposed to make sure that my productivity stays in line with the company’s goals.


Once a day, my boss comes into my office to change my top priority based on whichever account manager has most recently asked for a status update for their customer.

Not so great.

At least twice a week, he asks for a status update on my highest priority items.   Each time, he could mean the items we prioritized in the weekly meeting, or the items he chose to escalate later.   Somehow, getting a new task escalated doesn’t deescalate an existing task.

Everything is a top priority.

To compensate, I’ve been working a few 12 hour days each week, and occasionally coming in on the weekends.

I’m dedicated and still behind.

Prioritizing is treated as an art, or in the case I just mentioned, a juggling act.  It should be considered a science.  It’s usually pretty simple.

  • Is the problem costing you money? +1
  • Is the problem costing your customer money? +2
  • Is the problem going to hurt your reputation? +1
  • Is there a deadline? +1
  • Is it soon? +2
  • Is it urgent? +1
  • Is it important? +2
  • Are there absolutely no real consequences for anyone if it doesn’t get completed? -500

That’s it.    Too many times, we get hung up on urgent-but-not-important items and neglect the important things.

The hard part comes when it’s someone else setting your priorities, particularly when that person doesn’t rate things on urgency, importance, and cost but rather “Who has bitched the loudest recently?”

Can I tell my boss that I’m not going to do things the way he told me too?  No.  A former coworker very recently found out what happens when you do this.

Can I remind him that I’m busting my butt as hard as I can?  Yes, but it will just earn me a request to come in on the weekend, too.

Can I ignore the official priorities part of the time, and work on what I feel is most important to keeping our customers happy?  Yes, but it’s easy to go too far.  “Boss, I ignored what you said, but this customer is happy, now!” won’t score me any points if it happens every week.

Priorities are simple, but not always easy.  How do you balance your priorities?

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    1. That sucks wrt your boss. I am always asking myself, is this the best use of my time RIGHT NOW. It’s a constant struggle!

    2. I have been feeling like I am getting worse at this lately. It seems the list just gets bigger and stuff keeps getting bumped. Maybe it is the time of year or maybe I am too ambitious with what I think I can get done. Setting complete-able lists is one of my projects for the new year.

    3. I like the way you presented this topic Jason. Juggling is never easy. Seems like your boss needs to roll up their sleeves and help out when you are snowed under. Do you feel liked, needed, and respected, or are they burning you out?

    4. I like your points scale. I think I may have to implement it.

      I struggle with balancing priorities. I tend to complete my obligations to others before I work on anything for myself. Yet I consistently get told that my requests are not a priority. This is so frustrating to me, and I’m having to figure out a new approach.

    5. This post makes me glad I retired! I used to work in an area where the VEEP realized there was a need for more process and prioritization, but the managers getting yelled at by customers did exactly what your boss is doing. I was put in place to try to bring order to the chaos – install processes that assured the customers their needs would be met. You can bet that job was fun (ha-ha).

    6. This may sound odd – but I think as long as you’re doing something, you’re fine. If you can justify what you were doing and why you were doing it when you did it; upper mgt cannot be upset. Now – if you’re blogging on this site when there are issues at work to take care of – then there’s a conflict!

    7. It sounds like your boss sucks at project management. He or see needs to grow a pair and learn how to manage a team and more importantly client expectations. I say you professionally and politely let your boss know every time he changes your priorities in the last minute. During your meeting make give you deadlines and time frames when projects are due. If he changes mid week remind him that you will not be able to get the first assignment done. Then you let him decide how to handle it. Also make sure you tell him you’re working weekends so he knows there is a issue.


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