When we are confronted with multiple priorities, all of which seem to be urgent, we sometimes freeze – like a deer caught in the headlights. It’s a case of paralysis by analysis as we try to decide where to start.
If this happens to you, stop and take a deep breath, and write down all the priorities that currently confront you. As you read the resulting list out loud you will realize that you can’t overestimate the unimportance of everything. If it’s not life threatening, it’s not really that important.
This step is essential because you can’t be effective while in a panic mode.
Once you have convinced yourself that it’s not the end of the world, recognize that you can’t do everything at the same time. Nor can you do all things for all people. So begin the task of prioritizing.
With the purpose of your organization in mind, number the tasks in order of their importance. Don’t be concerned with their urgency unless it’s a tie. It doesn’t matter how urgent the task is if it’s really not that important. It’s important only if it furthers the goals of your organization. Hopefully you already have a written mission statement, policies and procedures, and specific goals for the year. If not, look after that little matter immediately.
If someone drops a jar of pickles on the floor as your store is about to open, you wouldn’t clean up the mess before you open the doors if your purpose included serving customers by selling groceries. Which option do you think would be of greater benefit to your customers, a spotless floor or access to the items they need?
If there are some items on your list that are urgent, but not important, ignore them and they will soon disappear. You can refer to that as “management by neglect” or “planned neglect.” You may find a few that are both urgent and important. By “urgent” I mean if you don’t take action right away, you will lose the goal-related benefit that task would have provided. You must schedule time in the immediate future to see that these tasks are completed. Hopefully there is someone other than yourself to whom you can delegate a few of these tasks.
You will probably find that the majority of the important tasks are not that urgent. You can schedule time to do these in the weeks ahead and still reap the rewards. If you don’t already schedule “appointments with yourself” to get important things done, do so. Otherwise your planning calendar will soon be filled with other people’s priorities rather than your own. It’s a lot easier to say “no” to others when you already have an appointment blocked off in your planner.
No doubt you will want to do them all, even if it’s physically impossible to do so. That’s only natural. After all, they might all be good things to do. But the good things can become the enemy of the best things if they distract you from your purpose for being in business. If you have competent employees, do what you do best and delegate the rest. If your employees aren’t competent enough to do them, add one more item on your list of important items – training. A small company’s success frequently rises to the level of its weakest employee.