When you have a leadership position in a company, you face enormous pressure on a daily basis in terms of many different criteria: ensuring that your company is on the route to making a profit, maintaining a strong reputation, knowing how to prioritize, keeping an organization intact, and being the face of a business.
Long story short, these individuals are responsible for strapping on and carrying a load, an entire company, on their backs. This is a lot of pressure.
Recently, we have completed interviews with CEOs from a variety of different industries about the day-to-day challenges that they face. One of the biggest challenges seemed to be prioritization.
This is stated the best by Jim Louderback, CEO of VidCon:
Aligning priorities and focusing on the future is a challenge that I have faced as a CEO.
With obligations and priorities coming at you from left and right, it can be a challenge to decide which business to tackle first, which tasks you can hold off on, and what you should delegate.
While this article provides advice from CEOs and their experiences, keep in mind that their contributions can be applied to not only Chief Executive Officers, but other members of the board of directors team such as CTOs and COOs, all the way to business owners to managers.
In this article, we will cover:
- Why prioritization is different from task and project management
- The challenges of prioritization
- How to prioritize your workload
Why prioritization is different from task management and project management
To start, let’s give a simple definition of each.
Project management is a method of organizing all activities related to a project and its parts. The purpose of a project may range from new product development to a service launch.
Task management is an activity in which an individual or team leader tracks a task throughout its life cycle and makes decisions based on the progress.
Prioritization is to arrange items to be attended to in order of their relative importance.
A common misconception that we have noticed is that many people use the concepts of task management, project management, and prioritization interchangeably. In reality, although these terms coincide with one another, they are completely different concepts.
Project Management refers to simply managing projects or big initiatives, which help you to accomplish your goals.
Each project consists of different tasks to help you complete the project — these are the action items which help you get closer and closer to finishing your project.
Every company in the world has tasks and projects, and hopefully a strong grasp in regards to task management and project management.
But, what sets companies that solely focus on task and project management but are still struggling apart from truly successful companies?
They are run by a leader who knows how to prioritize.
Prioritization leads you to define or redefine task management. Prioritization also helps you build more precise project management.
Prioritization is the backbone to superior task and project management; it is absolutely unavoidable if you want to increase, but also control your company’s gains.
By effectively prioritizing, you can figure out which areas to spend your valuable time and focus on what matters. It will also ensure that you are not focusing your time on miniscule tasks that can be delegated.
In the final section of this article, we will present tips on how to prioritize your workload.
How do you deal with many competing priorities?
In any given moment, you likely have an overflowing list of assignments rolling through your mind.
Your executive assistant discloses an issue to you, your chief financial officer is on you about finalizing next year’s budget, and you have to prepare a report for your shareholders by next week. It can be difficult to stop and take a moment to figure out what to do first. After all, there is no time to stop when there is so much to be finished.
There is no doubt that managing priorities can be challenging, especially when you are the person in command who hears from everybody: the customer’s, the board of directors, investors, stockholders, stakeholders, etc.
From our research with CEO’s, we noticed three common trends that explain why CEOs and other leaders struggle with prioritization.
- They have difficulty deciphering which items on their to-do list are the most critical and urgent — they feel all of their tasks are equally important
- They figure that there is no time to waste — the time spent prioritizing and creating an action plan can be replaced with completing whichever task APPEARS to be the most pressing
- They find it frustrating to delegate tasks to other members of the organization
Let’s take a moment to go over these thinking errors:
When your job is so important, it might feel like everything on your to-do list is equally important. This is a misconception that we will dive into further along in the article — not all tasks are created equal!
While taking time to prioritize does take some additional effort, it is effort well spent.
Think of prioritization as creating a budget. Let’s say you have $10,000 for your budget.
Let’s break this budget analogy into two different scenarios.
In the first scenario, you create your budget without thinking too much about it. You write expenditures down and along with a corresponding amount of dollars for spending. When you hit $10,000 worth of expenditures in your budget, you hear a ding.
In the second scenario, you take a couple of hours to look through and analyze previous budgets, current expenses, and your income to figure out where you should designate your spending.
As you can see, scenario two takes a little more time, but you aren’t stuck with a list of expenses that you chose mindlessly, and are therefore unsure about.
With prioritization, perhaps you have 100 hours.
Is it more efficient to go into those 100 hours blindly, or would it be better to take a small portion of that time to figure out how you can be most effective?
Yes, it can be tough to put faith into others with tasks that have any importance.
However, you are only one person, so it is necessary that you put your energy into what you do best.
Sometimes you have to trust your team — the people who you had the confidence to hire to assist you in the first place — they are there solely for that reason!
Here are some tips for effective delegation.
1. Evaluate your current prioritization method
Take a look at the approach you are presently using.
What is effective about it? Where can you make improvements?
For example, if you are using the Kanban method, you might recognize that you love the ability to visualize your to-do list as it helps optimize your workflow. You probably also appreciate that each card/task has a member of the team assigned to it, which allows you to get a sense of what your team is working on.
However, perhaps you do not feel that Kanban gives you a good sense of what should be tackled first, and that it is difficult to track a task from start to finish.
Figure out how you can remedy this.
2. Devote time to prioritization
You should designate a specific time at a minimum of once a week (ideally once a day) so you can not only decide what needs to be worked on, but also what you should work on first and what you should postpone.
Many take the time on Sunday nights to sit down and figure out what they would like to accomplish in the next week, and figure out what needs attention first. Others like to take 10-15 minutes to set out and prioritize their agenda first thing each morning.
3. Assess which tasks/projects are important, urgent, or both
Let’s start by defining these terms using the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
- Important means “marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence.”
- Urgent means “calling for immediate attention.”
The two words are straightforward. Yet, a number of the CEOs we have spoken to have had trouble splitting their tasks according to their importance and urgency.
As we mentioned previously, sometimes it feels like every task is critical and urgent!
The Eisenhower Method of Prioritization, created by President Eisenhower, is a matrix-based solution to this common issue.
With the Eisenhower Method, you take your tasks from ONE project you are working on (this method will be more efficient if you create one matrix PER project) and put them into one of the four quadrants:
- Critical and Urgent (Fires)
- Critical and Not Urgent (Prioritize and Plan to do)
- Not Critical, but Urgent (Reduce)
- Not Critical, nor Urgent (Repository)
Each day, your goal is to deescalate fires and move onto the tasks that are not urgent, but critical. As time goes on, you might notice:
- Items will transfer through quadrants (for example, a task you prioritized in quadrant 2 will be moved to quadrant 1)
- Tasks will be delegated (often these tasks are in quadrant 3)
- You might move through different quadrants throughout the day (for example, if you finish your fires in Quadrant 1, you might complete some tasks in the other quadrants)
4. Determine which tasks need to be completed by YOU
Often the tasks you should complete are based on the following criteria:
- Confidentiality: The information in this task is confidential and should not be handled by another team member
- Value: This task is important to you or to somebody else (make sure you are honest with yourself about what is valuable and what is not)
- Expertise: You have expertise, allowing you to do this task efficiently that others on the team do not yet have
From our research on CEOs from small-to-medium size companies, we noticed that CEOs like to focus on the following tasks in addition to their responsibilities:
- Maintaining and Increasing Employee Happiness
- Driving Business Innovation
- Market Research and Analysis
5. Delegate “Distractions”
Think back to Quadrant 3 of the Eisenhower Matrix. Any task that you have not assigned to yourself should be delegated.
6. Don’t be afraid to adjust
Perhaps you thought you could take on more than you could. If this is the case, feel free to delegate assignments to others or change assignment due dates if possible.
7. In addition to formal meetings, encourage informal discourse
Consider setting aside time one day each month to invite your team members, whether remote or in person, to just chat about everything in the workplace.
According to the CEOs we spoke to, these informal meetings foster the most innovation and creativity, creating real and effective solutions to company issues.
In these meetings, consider speaking about:
- New Initiatives
- The Current Market
- Areas for Improvement
This free-flowing environment will create a powerful team dynamic, bring your company closer, and will promote a creative place for employees to learn from each other.
8. Don’t forget to communicate with Your Team
You would think this one is a no brainer, however we know that carrying out effective communication with your team is easier said than done, especially in this day and age since so many teams are remote.
Hugues Franc mentions:
Communicating and exchanging with [his] team is vital in order to have better implication.
In addition, ensure that ideas that are communicated are also executed. Communicating an idea is the first step, but ensuring that it is carried out is ultimately what is the most important.
In terms of execution, consider a project management tool such as Priority Matrix that allows you to not only communicate action items clearly, but see who owns which tasks and the priority level of each action item.
This article shares some additional tips on how to effectively communicate with your employees.
9. Prioritize Time for Yourself
It can sometimes be challenging to take a moment and just breathe, or participate in something you enjoy, whether it be sports, a hobby, or spending much needed time with family and friends.
Thus, it is essential to prioritize time for yourself in addition to your company obligations and responsibilities.
Pigatti also offered some advice on this subject:
Some of the techniques I deploy to manage my time include: I don’t stray from my morning routine – which includes listening to Happy by Pharrell Williams, thinking about what I am grateful for, and spending uninterrupted time on the walking desk thinking about what is going on around me and how I can apply it to my life, our employees, and our business. I make sure to write down key insights and three actionable steps I can take to advance the insights. This sets the tone for each day.
Finally, I make sure to prioritize my own happiness. If I am happy, I am more likely to excel personally and professionally. I make time to get my energy from my family and friends, and from doing something I love.”
10. Use a Project Management or Task Management Software that ALLOWS YOU TO PRIORITIZE
Priority Matrix is a platform that offers more than solely project management or task management.
Priority Matrix is a quadrant based prioritization-centric solution that not only allows you to input your projects and tasks for each project, but in addition, it allows you to PRIORITIZE tasks amongst your team to make sure your tasks are done at the right time.
With the app, you can understand and communicate to everyone which tasks are critical and which are not so you AND your team are focused on what moves your goals forward in the most efficient manner.
Some other features that CEOs love in Priority Matrix:
- Adding notes, dates, progress, files, effort estimates, and more to keep track of all the little things effortlessly
- Visually categorize your tasks using icons and stars to rapidly identify the types of tasks you have at hand and to distinguish your most important tasks
- Assign tasks to a point person, or add several followers to a task to keep them up to date
- Get instant, accurate daily, weekly, or time specific reports to track the status of your team and projects to make sure you are accomplishing the most important tasks first
- And much more!
Prioritization takes time and effort, but spending time to prioritize your tasks and projects, versus just inputting them, is a worthwhile investment. Luckily, there are different strategies to streamline your prioritization process and tools like Priority Matrix which will make you a prioritization pro in no time.