“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Stephen R. Covey
It’s common to feel like you can’t get everything done, but the challenge can only be partly solved by becoming more efficient. The main challenge is deciding what to do and what not to do, because your time is ultimately limited regardless of your efficiency.
In practise this is remarkably hard. Try this simple exercise. Every morning pick one task you will do without fail. Start with with a ridiculously simple task such as moving a paperclip across your desk and then increase the size of the task slightly each day, moving up to meaningful, work-related tasks. See how many days you make. If you’re anything like me, this exercise will demonstrate how hard it is to achieve prioritization and focus.
People aren’t always proud of the things they aren’t doing. Yet, knowing that list is crucial for success.
It’s fairly easy to create a prioritized list, whether it’s tasks, projects or programs. The challenge is what on that list is not going to get done, ideally you have more ideas for things to do than you have capacity for (if you don’t that’s another problem), ranking might be hard, and balanced portfolio creation harder still, but determining what is not going to get done is crucial. Making that decision early and effectively will make you much more effective.
Conventional wisdom says, plan your work and work your plan. Failing to complete a task is the antithesis of this.
However, in many organizations, employees are purposefully overloaded. By design, the organization puts more demands on employees than they can reasonably accomplish. Work comes in from customers, co-workers, managers and internal processes. The successful employees are not the ones who get it all done. That’s not possible. Finishing work will simply create more work. The successful employees are the ones who pick the right work to do. An implication of this is that work will ‘fall off’ your task list. But if all goes well, it’s the lower priority work that’s falling off, and the most impactful work is getting done.
The theoretical approach is to determine exactly what you can accomplish and reject other requests, but that approach, can take more time to set up and maintain than most people have, because you’re continually rebalancing for each request that comes in. In organizations with this overload culture and without formal planning, this model reflects the lowest cost process for how work is ‘managed’.