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?