Juggling Priorities

With the move to Corporate America, you will come across a number of new projects and requirements that need to be accomplished.  Some of them are short term, some are long term.  Some come from your manager, some come from their manager.  So how do you determine what to work on right now compared to what to work on in a few weeks?  For the purpose of this post, we’ll use the following scenario:

You have a daily sales report that needs to be published and distributed to your team (12 people) by 11 AM.  To send publish and distribute the report, it requires you to go into your analytics tool and manually pull sales performance by salesperson and territory, so everyone knows their performance.  This process usually takes about 20 minutes, but is very manual.  You are presenting a new idea to your manager on how to better engage with customers at 2:30 PM and you have to finalize a few slides in the presentation deck and do a few run-throughs to ensure you’re comfortable, which you think will take you about 40 minutes.  And you have a larger project that isn’t due for two weeks, which will require a significant amount of time to work on, about six hours.  Throughout the day, you need to check your email as well to make sure that others know you’re available, which takes about two hours.  Oh yeah - and you have meetings scheduled throughout the day that leave you with only 45 minutes open.

Here are a few methods to address this scenario:

Method # 1: When you walk into work that morning, write down everything you need to accomplish.  Rather than making a separate to-do list, slot those required activities into your calendar.  This means you will have a dedicated amount of time to complete the activities.  This does not solve for the scenario above, as there is not enough time to accomplish each task, but it will organize your time and allow you to truly understand how much time you need to get things done.  

Method # 2: Question your meetings.  Do you really need to attend the optional training on how to submit a request to the legal team?  Or can that wait for another day?  If it can wait for another day, decline the meeting.  It is OK to decline meetings that are not required.  This is a challenge for new employees because they feel they need to be accommodating of every request, but think about your priorities first and what is truly required of you to be successful in your job.

Method # 3: Automate everything.  A presentation cannot be automated, as it truly requires manual work.  But a daily report that needs to be published and sent out to a team?  That can be automated.  I can say with near 100% confidence the analytics tool you use has the ability to automatically generate reports and send them to a pre-defined distribution list.  This requires one time set up, which may take you 30 minutes, but then you never need to touch it again.  This frees up 20 minutes of your time every day.  Over the course of the week, that saves you an hour and 40 minutes.

Method # 4: Give yourself less time to accomplish each task.  Parkinson’s Law states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”  By giving yourself less time to complete work, you will be amazed at your ability to get it done.  Ever wonder why in college you couldn’t write a paper with one week notice, but one hour before it was due you wrote the whole thing?  The same mentality applies here.  For this scenario, you think you need 40 minutes to complete and practice for the presentation.  Give yourself 20 minutes and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Method # 5: Inform your manager you do not have sufficient time to complete daily requirements.  Be open and up-front with your manager about your time.  If you notice you do not have enough time in the day and your manager is piling more onto your workload, you need to tell them.  A successful way to do this is to say: “I am not able to get that done today because I am completely jammed, so does tomorrow at 10 AM work for it to be completed?”  The important piece of this is you are not saying: “I can’t get it done,” rather you are negotiating a new time for it to be done.  In the above scenario, if you are truly unable to adjust your calendar, try this method and let your manager know you need more time to work on the presentation.

Method # 6: Optimize your email.  Set up filters on your email that ensure you’re only looking at the most important emails.  One filter I use is a “cc” filter - if I am cc’ed on an email, it goes to my “CC Folder.”  I am assuming if I am cc’ed that I am not as important.  So if my time is limited, I can only focus on those that go into my “Sent Directly to Me Folder.”  Another way to optimize your email is to block off time to and only read/respond to emails during that time.  By checking your inbox throughout the day you are not able to fully focus and distract yourself from other tasks.  In this scenario, since you check your email throughout the day, this time adds up quickly.  Take control of your email!  Block off two 30-minute sessions in the day to read/respond to emails.  It does’t need to be more complicated than that.  Let other people know you’ll be checking your email during the two times you’ve selected and they will understand not to expect responses from you except during those times.  It is not that you do not care to respond instantaneously, but rather, there are more high-impact activities you should focus on.  You’ll be amazed at how optimizing your email will impact your time.

These, of course, are only a few methods for juggling your calendar and dealing with a complex and often ambiguous set of priorities.  What is actually most important?  What has a pressing deadline?  Who is requiring this work?  All of those questions need to be answered when determining when your work needs to be accomplished.  I am confident with these methods you’ll be better able to manage a tricky schedule.

Thought Starters

  • How do you determine priority of daily tasks and long-term projects?
  • What methods have you used to ensure you accomplish everything required?