Learn how to prioritise urgent vs important and establish better priority alignment to reach business goals.
Nobody looks at a task and says, “Oh, it doesn’t look important at all. I’ll do it first.”
Your coworkers probably have good reasons for setting their priorities where they have them. They still find the tasks valuable even if those aren’t your top priority.
How can your team establish better priority alignment? How can all members agree on priorities and work together to reach similar goals? The solution is to balance priorities carefully.
What is Priority Management?
Priority management involves allotting time and energy to tasks that significantly impact your most important projects, clients, and long-term objectives.
Project managers often need to adjust resources, timelines, and individual tasks when delivering projects on time and within scope.
So why is it crucial to set and manage priorities?
Knowing how to prioritise urgent vs important is crucial since no leader wants to spend all their time putting out fires.
Priority management is about putting in the effort where it counts. It’s focusing on projects that will have a lasting impact rather than replying to emails until you’re sick of the chore. All the more so for entrepreneurs who must juggle various tasks and never seem to finish their to-do lists.
The Development Academy, a professional training company, claims that “dealing with whatever comes up” is the least effective time management method. Conversely, the well-known Pareto principle states that just 20% of factors produce 80% of results. Better business outcomes will occur if you can zero in on your 20%, whether that’s a shorter time to market or higher revenue.
Further, employees will better understand the “why” behind their job if a company is open and honest about its priority areas. They will be more motivated and content when given more autonomy over their schedules. Having a plan for getting things done throughout the day is much less stressful than always having to improvise in response to unexpected problems.
Knowing how to prioritise urgent vs important can help you do the following:
- Organise tasks. You don’t want your staff to leave an assignment undone and jump on a new one if they’re still working on an earlier, more pressing one.
- Limit workloads. You and your team can meet the company’s needs without being overworked if you prioritise and organise your tasks properly.
- Keep the project on target. You’ll keep the project on schedule if you and your team can effectively set priorities.
- Imagine how the project will turn out. Having a clear view of your to-do list is crucial. Planning tasks with an estimated duration can help you determine what else needs to be done to complete the project by its due date.
- Promote cooperation and a healthy work-life balance. You and your team can achieve a better work-life balance if you prioritise tasks. It is helpful to clearly understand what needs to be accomplished and in what order to ensure that no one falls behind.
How to Effectively Prioritise Tasks
1. Identify company objectives.
The United States Department of Homeland Security’s Big Promise is to protect the country from terrorist assaults. They have concluded that reporting suspicious behaviour is the most effective approach to stopping terrorist strikes.
Most of their job goes unseen, but the slogan “If you see anything, say something” is visible on public transportation hubs’ walls. With this communication, they hope to enlist the assistance of everybody.
Indeed, the call to action was fruitful. Researchers at San José State University showed that since the term’s circulation in the ’70s, detection rates in developed countries had increased by 14%. In addition, the number of thwarted terrorist attempts rose as the word grew in popularity.
Like Homeland Security relies on everyone’s cooperation, you rely on your team to help you keep your company’s Big Promise.
Priority management is most effective when priorities are first aligned from the top down. The world’s most productive team won’t accomplish anything if their efforts aren’t contributing to the things that matter most to the stakeholders.
You don’t have to be the party responsible for rushing a dozen new items to launch when the leadership team would instead reinvest in the current one.
2. Integrate team targets with larger organisational targets.
Daniel James Brown’s book The Boys in the Boat vividly depicts The nine-man University of Washington crew that won a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
“And he came to understand how those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing—a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy.”
The fact that nine people can mesh into a single unit and that pleasure can take the place of effort shows an innate drive to coordinate actions. Some academics contend that we’re hardwired to seek out social validation through conformity.
When the company’s ultimate goal is crystal clear, it’s time to rally the troops and get everyone working together. A Harvard Business School study found that 95% of employees either don’t know about or don’t understand their company’s strategic plan.
First and foremost, ensure you’re effectively communicating with your team, especially regarding the company’s key priorities, to overcome this shocking fact. Ensure you’re measuring personnel against a set team and individual goals that align with corporate goals.
The next step is to deal with the hidden assumptions underlying daily priorities.
We each have prejudices when it comes to crucial things. Some people put a task first based on who requested it. The further up the requesting party is on the organisational chart, or the louder they shout, the greater the priority they assign the task.
Some things are given higher priority than others, depending on how close they are to their due date. Others will prioritise tasks based on how much they coincide with the individual’s interests and values.
Instead, instruct your team to prioritise value creation. Regardless of who delegated the task or how pressing it may appear, the duties with the highest return on investment for the business always take priority.
If so, who gets to choose what counts as critical? Well, it brings us to our third and last piece of advice.
3. Make work requests systematic and measurable.
Make sure new projects start the same way each time by setting established procedures.
FocusIMS has this feature, saving staff members the trouble of digging through old messages, voicemails, post-it notes, and documents to find out what they must do next. They’ll be able to get the details they need fast from a unified hub—a single work queue. This feature goes well with the policy and procedure management solution that will help ensure compliance within your organisation.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the likelihood that a business will employ standardised techniques across the board and achieve better results is nearly three times higher among those with good work key metrics (on time, on budget, and goal achievement).
However, requests fall short if they fail to convey the value of the request. Only 32% of respondents in a recent Business Improvements Architects survey reported using any method to decide which projects should be completed first. The same study found that 68% of businesses lacked a formal process to identify top-priority projects or establish direct links between those endeavours and organisational objectives.
And what is the answer to this problem? A scorecard system that designates point values to all tasks could allow everyone to specify critical and flexible tasks. As work cycles progress, promoting open communication about competing objectives is crucial.
4. Urge your team to set aside time for critical but less urgent tasks.
The seven habits popularised by Steven Covey have been around for 27 years, which is longer than many people’s careers in business. Nonetheless, it is always helpful to be reminded of fundamental truths.
Covey proposed a four-part system for organising work:
- Important and Urgent
- Important and Not Urgent
- Not Important and Urgent
- Not Important and Not Urgent
Without a scoring system to identify the “important,” your team will spend too much time in quadrant three, Not Important and Urgent.
Compared to other qualities, “urgent” is easy to identify. Build your priority management system so that your team spends most of its time in quadrants one and two and seldom in quadrant four.
5. Modify your approach as needed.
After absorbing company objectives, creating complementary team goals, and figuring out how to evaluate new projects by value, your work is only beginning. You must now ensure that you have a complete overview of your team’s activities so you can provide helpful input and make necessary adjustments as you go.
The weekly stand-up meeting is an excellent place to conduct it if you’re using Agile project management, but it’s not required. You can make feedback and course modifications in real-time with cloud-based task management tools.
While it is essential to address the issue of team members prioritising low-value tasks over high-value projects, it is probably even more critical to provide encouragement and recognition when:
- Teammates prioritise the highest-value tasks.
- Teammates set aside time for crucial but not time-sensitive tasks.
- Teammates keep each other in check on critical objectives.
- Teammates offer suggestions to improve the workflow.
Knowing how to prioritise urgent vs important is not something you can do once and for all. It is a never-ending process that necessitates continuous vigilance.
But you’ll discover it’s well worth practising alignment in both directions, standardising and scoring tasks, making time for critical but not urgent work, and providing course modifications and positive comments along the way.
After all, if everyone rows toward the same goal, the boat will get there more quickly and efficiently than if its occupants were all headed in separate directions. Your mission is to get out of their path after you’ve directed them to the correct port and equipped them with the necessary tools.
FocusIMS will assist your business in several ways to make many tasks more efficient.
Automatically, actions are identified and assigned with expected completion dates during your meetings. They then appear on “my action list” until they are complete. The items past their expected completion appear on the left. Those to be completed in the next month appear on the right.
The compliance bar at the top of the page shows you quickly and easily what needs updating in each functional area. That means you can get stuck into doing more rapidly instead of spending lots of time working out what needs to be done. It also makes it easier to assign tasks.
Field Crews are assigned and complete the admin on-site with the field module, meaning the system captures all the basics. That leaves the discussions/consultation to cover the exceptions and the more complex requirements rather than the basics, giving everyone more precise instructions.
As a leader, one of your most significant challenges will be to create a system and culture that focuses your organisation on the important work rather than just the urgent. A management system like Focus IMS that optimises your work by assigning tasks and seamlessly following up on communication is imperative to your organisation’s success.