One of the greatest frustrations among overworked people (and we all seem to be overworked these days) is having too many priorities. New priorities fire at us from all over the place. Keeping up with them can be akin to standing in front of a relentless tennis ball serving machine. No matter how hard we work, they just keep coming.
As well, everything appears to be a top priority. There isn’t enough time to finish yesterday’s work before jumping into today’s most pressing needs. We feel as though we cannot drop any balls. It is impossible to do a great job when stretched thin across too many priorities.
Given this reality, what can leaders do to help their team manage priorities and feel less overwhelmed?
Thankfully, there are two relatively simple and highly effective things leaders can do. And these two things make a significant difference in helping our team remain focused, while also feeling supported and empowered.
Step 1: Define Top Priorities
The word “priority” originated to denote one single focus. But in today’s fast-paced world, we have pluralized it. We all seem to have too many priorities. But it is easier to talk about multiple priorities than to act on them. It’s one thing to have multiple goals and commitments, but we can only truly focus on one thing at a time.
Great leaders help their team manage their competing list of “priorities”. They take the time to ensure their team is crystal clear on the relative ranking of the myriad of goals.
The easiest way to help our team manage priorities is to encourage them to establish a great To Do List. A consolidated and complete To Do List is a key first step to identifying top priorities. If one’s tasks are recorded in multiple locations (sticky notes, calendar, written list, flagged emails, memory, etc.), it is very difficult to keep track of all tasks – let alone clearly identify the top priorities. Without a great task management system, people tend to default into the squeaky wheel approach. In other words, they jump from one crisis to another.
Related Article: How to build a great To Do List
As leaders, we can help our team identify the top goals that best align to our team vision or mission.
Step 2: Lead Regular Priority Reviews
Defining top priorities is not a static, one-time process. Given how fast things change, we need to be prepared to review and modify this plan. On that note, leaders need to support the on-going priority review process.
We can best do this by scheduling regular priority review meetings with our team. This is typically best done one-on-one, but may make sense with small groups if they are all working on similar work. Ironically, many leaders cut these meetings when things get busy – and when these priority reviews are most critical.
Priority review meetings do not need to be long. In fact, standing meetings can make for very effective (and quick) reviews. Begin by reviewing your team member’s To Do List. Together, you can identify what is first, what can be postponed and how to manage all of the competing demands on our time.
Concentrate your discussions on the top goals. Where can you help? What is getting in the way? How can we manage competing demands on our time? It is worth noting that asking “How can I help?” does not mean you should leave the meeting with the monkey on your back. As a leader, we should provide information and assistance but leave the responsibility in the hands of our team.
Related Article: Do You Prioritize Like Steve Jobs?
Helping our team focus on top priorities helps to preserve our most important resource: our team. When they are focused, their work is better, they have greater senses of satisfaction and the less burned out they are.
Together, these two steps help us to fulfill some of our most important roles as leaders. The first step allows us to focus on results. However, this alone does not define a great leader. Those who rank strong on this characteristic are only perceived to be a “great leader” 14% of the time based on a survey of 60,000 employees. Thankfully, a multiplier exists. The second step allows us to focus on our people. Leaders who are deemed to be strong in both focus and social skills are perceived to be a great leader 72% of the time.
How do you help your team remain focused despite the many competing pressures on their time? What are your best priority management strategies? Please share your feedback in the comments. I have no doubt we could all learn from you.