Prioritization: Reordering Your World

Prioritization sits near the top of any list of successful leadership skills. This holds true whether the leader involved runs an army or the night crew at the local donut shop. It holds true everywhere on Earth and has for all of human history.

Prioritization: Reordering Your World by Laura Stack #productivityIn general, prioritization represents the order in which you organize and ultimately accomplish the goals most important to you: your faith, your family, your friends, your career, your self-care, and your daily work. You have to look closely at each and decide which items should come first and how everything else should follow. While all these categories are important, they aren’t equally important at all times.

As we limit this discussion to the work arena, prioritization may involve several levels of responsibility, starting with the personal standards required of any effective individual: a strong sense of self-discipline, written goals, organized to-do lists, a tight focus, and a drive for efficiency, just to name a few. However, the most significant level of leadership-grade prioritization is the order in which you prioritize your team’s operations and projects. This involves careful planning and consideration of cost/benefit analyses, delivery time frames  and resource allocation for new projects, along with the reorganization of existing projects.

Large-scale prioritization is rarely a solitary exercise. In most cases, the logical method is to sit down with the key stakeholders of the priorities at hand (Directors, VPs, other C-Suite executives, etc.) and hammer out which projects need to come first and why. This type of review makes it easier for the leadership team to make its final decisions, and it prepares you to spring into action once they have.

Properly done, prioritization also hones your organization’s efficiency, because it avoids wasted time and effort. So when you sit down to prioritize, consider ways that doing so might make your team’s workflow smoother and easier, thus increasing your speed and profitability.

True prioritization is proactive, rather than reactive; in other words, try to prioritize in advance of projected needs. Sometimes strategy occurs on the spur of the moment because the situation forces you to react; however, proactive planning allows for a level of flexibility, agility, and efficiency that reactive prioritization lacks. You can’t easily take every factor into account when you’re reactive, and eventually, your inefficiency can catch up with you.

Prioritization means more than just choosing which items come first. You still have to deal with lower-priority items, deciding where they should fit into the schedule—if at all—and how to outsource, eliminate, streamline, or delegate those tasks. Don’t be afraid to tap your team members for lower-level decisions. Don’t just delegate at the task level; delegate decision-making, so team members don’t have to come to you to gain approval for every little thing. While the buck always stops with you, you must delegate some authority to a) keep from being overwhelmed, and b) to empower your team members, so they can use their own creativity to solve problems. Don’t give up all your responsibility, but oversee rather than micromanage. This will free up the time necessary to revisit your goals and rattle cages, when necessary, to move things along.

Which brings up another point about prioritization: sometimes the priorities of leaders higher up the ladder may take precedence over your desires. Even if you’re at the top of the heap, a Board of Directors or stockholder group may have the final say. Still, it’s your responsibility to convince them of the value of specific projects, and to make recommendations based on how those projects align with organizational goals. Your leadership may or may not listen to you, but even so, you should do your best to champion whatever you believe benefits the organization the most.

Once they’ve made their decisions, however, the die has been cast. It’s up to you to prioritize the goals and resulting projects as efficiently as possible based on those higher-level decisions, whether you agree with them or not. Once decisions have been made, take ownership in them and execute quickly.