Many people struggle with an overwhelming workload because there is a lack of prioritisation of work at all levels; everything becomes “top priority” of the week. Strong prioritisation tackles the causes (workload) instead of ineffective traditional strategies that fight the symptoms (time management, training, staff performance management, targets).
“Ok, it’s Monday lunchtime. What’s this week’s crisis then?”
An environment beset with constant firefighting can have many causes, including under-resourcing. But it is amazing how often this situation is internally generated – through a basic lack of structured and sensible prioritisation.
Does everything you do really need to be done?
Does what you do and the way that you do it make sense?
Isn’t it time someone did something about it?
Let’s first look the effects of a dysfunctional or absent prioritisation regime. Then we’ll consider what to do about it.
Priorities are unclear and ever-shifting. There is a constant stream of demands for new things that “must be done”. Fire-fighting, context-switching and long lists of tasks “in progress” are the norm.
Taking a completely reactive approach is not prioritising – it is an absence of any prioritisation.
This is hugely expensive on the ground because it destroys productivity as people are sucked into constant firefighting and can never focus. The result is huge amounts of activity but very little work of real value gets done.
Pretty quickly quality and morale fall dramatically and reputation suffers, risking the long-term future of the business.
It doesn’t have to be like this. It is perfectly possible to follow an alternative pattern in your organisation that leads to a far better outcome. Let’s look together at what you could do instead and the positive consequences that will follow.
What might a different way look like?
Priorities are clear, well-defined and have a simple justification and remain stable for long periods of time. Calm productive focus and performing a single task at a time are the norm.
To do a good focussed job people need to have an handful of simple clear priorities. This lets them easily distinguish value-adding activities from waste and kill a lot of pointless meetings, management and time-wasting activities that harm productivity.
This actually reduces workload, further increasing capacity. Priority stability allows tasks to get done properly and directly improves quality.
Both factors make the business a better place to work and better for customers.
So how would you go about following this pattern in your organisation?
Let’s break it down into a small set of simple steps that can guide you through implementing a new approach to prioritisation.
There is some work involved in getting there and while everyone is really busy it can be very hard to get people to take the time to deal with this. You need to be very strong and force the issue – if it is never dealt with then you’ll forever struggle to get anywhere and work will become an unpleasant exhausting grind. Nobody should need to experience that.
If you are not sure about all of this yet then why not try out the Toe Dipping option as a first step?
Make this data available to everyone involved and call a workshop to simplify and identify a handful of true priorities.
Explicitly list and record priorities that can be dropped.
Capture people’s concerns and explore ways to address them.
Establish a simple process to deal with changes to priorities and challenge them to ensure that they are not reactive and properly represent end-to-end goals of the organisation.
Actively promote and encourage “one-task-at-a-time” working.
Why not enforce that no-one in your organisation has more than three priorities at any one time? It will seem impossible at first but will then quickly focus everyone on stripping out extraneous activity and identifying where the real capacity problems lie.
Tackling this issue is one of the hardest things you can do but it also pays the most dividends. Frequently the only way to enable a bigger change is to start freeing up some capacity first and that means an aggressive re-prioritisation of existing activity.
Go for it and don’t look back.
Please let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear from you,
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