Jaco Friedrich MSc., 10 December 2020
A management consultant asks:
In my job, I deal with multiple projects from different clients. That variety makes the work exciting, but the pile of memos and reports is getting too much. When I go home in the evening, I haven’t been able to do what I had planned because of all the phone calls, emails and meetings. It’s very frustrating and I’m getting more and more often commented on not meeting deadlines. How do I create order out of this chaos?
'You must constantly be aware and active in setting priorities'
The communication trainer answers:
The theory about prioritizing is simple, but applying it is oh so tricky. Why? Because there are many factors at play at the same time that vary from person to person and from workplace to workplace, and are also constantly changing. Important factors are for example the dynamics of the work, the extent to which you can delegate, the level of the people around you and of course your own personality. Personal tendencies, that can make it difficult for you, are perfectionism (‘never finish, because it has to be 110 percent right’), pleasing (‘if I say I won’t do it, he won’t like me anymore’), disaster thinking (‘if I make a mistake, things will go terribly wrong, so I procrastinate’), enthusiasm (‘I like everything, finishing is something I am less good at’) and helpfulness (‘I like helping people, so I hardly get around to my own work’). All these personal factors in combination with all the constantly changing circumstances mean that you constantly have to be consciously and actively engaged in setting priorities.
How do you do that? In brief, the theory. The priority of a task is determined by the factor ‘importance’ and the factor ‘time’. Whether something is important depends primarily on your core task. What are you paid for? Suppose you are an architect, so working on the architecture of a machine is important. Arranging a meeting or making a calculation that perhaps an engineer could do is less important. Next, you check the urgency. Does it have to be done quickly or can it be left? And for how long?
Based on these two criteria, you decide how much time to spend on a task and when. Is it important and urgent? Then you do it now and well. If it is important and not urgent, you can schedule the work or make a start. Is it not important but urgent? Let someone else do the work or spend as little time as possible on it yourself. Not important and not urgent? Ignore them!
Check with yourself: what gives the most pressure, urgency or importance? Right, urgency. We are lived by the delusion of the day. We give in to pressure. Someone at your desk, an email, everything requires attention now. Some of that stuff you have to do to keep things going, but some of it is a waste of your time. The time you lose because of this, you lack in carrying out the important tasks, which also become urgent as a result.
Prioritizing therefore requires an active attitude and regularly selling no, but with a justification. The approach is as follows.
1) List for yourself the most important and difficult tasks that you really need to do.
2) Make sure you make time in your calendar to do these tasks and be prepared to defend this very hard.
3) Make sure you leave enough time for all kinds of ‘in-between’ things (thirty percent on average).
4) Be prepared to adjust your agenda and planning at any time if necessary.
One last piece of advice: make a realistic schedule and communicate what you can and cannot do. This will make you a reliable colleague. The world is not going to run according to your schedule. You will need to be continuously flexible, but never lose sight of your main goals.