Being able to effectively prioritize the right tasks in your workload is an essential part of being a strong and valuable leader. But how do you do this when everything is important?
Focus on strategy
If it feels like everything is of equal importance, the first place you need to start is your strategy. This should clearly identify what elements of your workload are the highest priority, which are the lowest, and everything in between.
According to Professor Richard Rumelt's book 'Good Strategy. Bad Strategy', there are three key parts of a good strategy:
- A Diagnosis to define or explain the challenge, helping to simplify your method by identifying certain aspects as critical
- A Guiding Policy or overall approach to deal with or cope with any obstacles identified
- Coherent Actions that deliver the Guiding Policy
Look for the most far-reaching tasks
Take the lead from Airbnb Co-Founder Brian Chesky and look for the tasks that can accomplish the most by being completed. He says that he makes a long list of things that need doing and then tries to divide them into groups. Chesky then looks for the actions that can complete most of the smaller tasks.
"If you have a list of 20 things to do, you often realize that if you do three big things, these other 20 things are going to be solved in some way by three big things. So it’s my way of finding out how to do fewer, bigger things."
Focus on communication
You need to identify the ways in which it is easiest and most straightforward for people to communicate with you and vice versa. This may be different when you're talking to individuals vs the whole team vs the entire department vs the whole company, but investing time to find the most suitable option for each will pay off in the long run.
You waste an incredible amount of time chasing people or having to re-explain something that you've already talked about. As well as looking at the communication methods, you need to look at the techniques you're using to make sure you're being effective.
Identify bottlenecks in the system
Finding bottlenecks in your method of working or in your actual workload can help you be more productive with your time. Long wait times, high stress levels and backlogs of work can all be key signs that there's a bottleneck somewhere. Once you have identified it, there are a number of strategies to help you solve it.
One popular method is the '5 Whys' problem-solving technique, which aims to tackle the heart of the problem rather than looking for short-term fixes. It's based on a seven-step method of identifying the issue and then asking yourself why after each answer has been found.
Treat your time as a product
Treating yourself as you would any other supplier or product can help you see how to make the most of your time. For example, if you spend eight hours a month on admin tasks, outsourcing this to a third-party could save you money and leave you free to focus on more high-skill tasks.
This is one of the best-kept secrets of Silicon Valley companies, who offshore and outsource a significant proportion of their everyday, low-level jobs. If you waste a lot of time creating Excel documents, understanding spreadsheets or deciding whether photos are appropriate, then turning to a third-party tool or service could save you a massive amount of time.
When you're a Manager, this can be reflected across your entire team, freeing up a lot of internal resource and ensuring your skilled professionals are working on tasks dependent on their expertise.