“When is it due for? Yesterday!” How many times have we heard that phrase? Companies are always running against time and every single thing quickly becomes an urgent priority. This trend is growing stronger in a world where all things go faster and faster and where communication channels keep on multiplying.
Managing priorities is without any doubt one of the key challenges companies must face. Managers are particularly impacted as they have to manage their own priorities as well as their team’s priorities.
How to get organized and where to begin? Here are some simple steps managers can take to prioritize their team’s work as well as their own.
Step #1: Define clear objectives
Only after having defined clear objectives for their team members and themselves, can managers define priorities
Prioritizing means making choices and establishing a hierarchy between action items. Without a clear vision of one’s role and objectives, it is impossible to prioritize. Only after having defined clear objectives for their team members and themselves, can managers define priorities. In everyday life, when we have a meeting, we check the address before choosing the best itinerary, not the contrary! It’s the same thing for priorities: we first need to know the objective before deciding what is the route to reach it.
Priorities are all the action items that will enable each and everyone to reach results and objectives. Therefore, the first step to prioritization for a manager is to know and understand his/her own objectives and to articulate them into his/her team’s objectives. As defining clear and effective objectives is not an easy task, don’t hesitate to read our dedicated article here.
Step #2: List and order action items
Managers need to regularly ask themselves if their team’s efforts as well as their own are focused on making progress on the right topics
Once objectives are clearly defined, the next step is to list and order shorter-term actions. A frequent pitfall is to limit oneself to a simple task list, a simple “to-do list”. While to-do lists are great to get things done, they do not help to take a step back or to prioritize. Let’s not blind ourselves, it’s always satisfying to check boxes on a to-do list or to see a team deliver task after task. However, managers need to go further than that and to regularly ask themselves if their team’s efforts as well as their own are focused on making progress on the right topics.
Numerous methods exist to define and prioritize actions. The Pomodoro technique, consisting in cutting down all actions in 25 minutes tasks, or the Eat the frog technique, starting with the most difficult tasks, come to mind. In our opinion, simple and efficient methodologies always work best. For example, the Eisenhower matrix, named after the 34th US President, helps to classify tasks along two criteria, is it important and/or urgent:
- Important and urgent tasks: do now
- Important but not urgent tasks: do later
- Urgent but not important tasks: delegate
- Not urgent and not important: eliminate
Step #3: Track and align priorities continuously
Managers and teams need to sync up continuously to stay aligned and keep clear of all risks of misalignment and misunderstanding
Now that we have an efficient matrix to prioritize actions linked to all of our objectives, the most important thing is to make these priorities live. This means following these priorities (ideally on a weekly basis) and to have conversations about these with your team. Priorities can and must change according to the activity, clients, projects, etc. Managers and teams need to sync up continuously to stay aligned and keep clear of all risks of misalignment and misunderstanding.
Managers who track their team’s priorities will not only have an aligned and efficient team but will also better understand their daily activities. For example, a high number of priorities for a given team member can indicate a heavy workload or a lack of prioritization. If members of your team keep working on the same priorities week after week, they may be facing a roadblock or lack resources. Therefore, managers have all to gain to keep up with their teams’ priorities.
At Popwork, prioritizing is an old habit. We’d love to be able to do everything but, as a small team, we simply can’t. We always have to prioritize some projects or tasks over others. When we make these choices, we need to be sure we’re focusing on the right topics. Here’s what we do:
- Every Monday, we define what our priorities for the week will be, that is to say what most of our efforts are going to focus on. We try to limit ourselves to 3 priorities for each of us as if we have more, they are not real priorities and the risk is to dilute our efforts.
- Once each of us has shared his/her weekly priorities, we talk about it. Everyone can chime in and this conversation helps us make sure we’re going in the right direction and that our personal priorities are aligned with the group’s.
- The following Monday, we share in a transparent way the progress we’ve made on last week’s priorities, helping us define and adjust upcoming priorities.
This simple ritual brings us a lot individually and collectively. It’s not always easy to keep this ritual going and to stay efficient, this is why we use Popwork internally as well.
If you want to understand how Popwork can help you and your team, click here.