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Making “First Things First” Work

September 03, 2014

Priorities.  We all know that it’s better to set and work what’s priority.  Most of us are familiar with Stephen Covey’s priority statement or directive that to be more successful you need to work “First Things First”  – which affirms the value of focusing on priority.  Maybe some of you are familiar with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach, which further expands on working what’s priority.  But here’s the rub.  If you are managing people in any capacity, how do you get the concept of priority beyond talk? 

How do you make it reality… how do you make priority setting really work for you and your direct reports today, tomorrow, next week and next month?  I have a solution for you.  But before I share it, one quick question.  Have you ever thought of how much people identifying and working what’s priority correlates with things like alignment, engagement, value and just plain enjoyment of working with them.  It’s huge, right?  So keep reading, this is important, really important.

The Pareto principle suggests that it’s only smart to work what’s priority, e.g. focus on the 20% of the tasks outstanding on any given day that inevitably generate 80% of the results.  So let’s start with the first issue with making the concept of working what’s priority a reality for you and your direct reports, and it’s visibility. How do you have visibility on whether or not your direct reports are identifying the relative priority of tasks accurately and working those items more than what is just deemed urgent or interesting?

Let me follow that with a question:  Where is the list of tasks your direct reports are facing on any given day?  For many the list is partly in their brain based on past conversations (and in yours), and partly scattered around in a bunch of forms ranging from emails to post-it notes on their desktop.  How will you know, much less reinforce their decision to work on what’s priority, given the current locations?  The short answer is you won’t be able to.

So the fix for the first challenge of visibility, is to create a common, shareable list that includes a column or designation for priority, so that you and your direct reports have a visible, shared resource to work from.  There’s lots of tools out there to provide this feature, you typically just need to spend 15 minutes a day keeping the list current, updated and rated in terms of priority.

Ok, so now you and your direct reports have a shared list.  Next issue.  How do you and your staff get better at this… how do you improve at the ability to work what’s priority?  Again we’re back to lack of visibility aren’t we, because you actually don’t have any concrete way to tell if you and your direct reports are doing any better at working what’s priority this week then 6 weeks ago or any other time frame.  What are you going to do?  By the way, in our experience without tracking, you can expect the work effort using a shared list to be marginally better at working what’s priority, but not to improve over time .  (All most nothing improves over time without either personal interest or pleasure driving the process, or tracking and competition.)

There is a solution for this second visibility problem, well actually several, but let me share one simple approach that works really well using ManagePro

1. First you need to create a shareable list of tasks that are either designated at the priority one or top priority tasks, or a list of tasks that are visibly prioritized.  In the screen shot below, I’ve greyed out the confidential information from one of our customers, but you can see that they are creating an outline to accommodate viewing the tasks that are priority for each direct report.  They also created in effect an outline for capturing the backlog of tasks that aren’t due yet (displayed as 30, 60 & 90 day queue’s), from which they drag tasks into the current week for heightened visibility and tracking.  You can do the same very easily… but we’re only half way there! 



 2.  Second you need to track what % of priority 1 tasks get accomplished, e.g. how are people doing at working what’s priority.  Move it from something vague like a hunch or impression to actual data.  In this second screen shot you see that we simply helped them create a scorecard within ManagePro, that calculates each week what % of top priority tasks got completed and tracks those scores over time so that you have both a current rank ordered scorecard and also a trend graphic over time.  Now you have the tools, using ManagePro, to make working priority a reality where you work.  And by-the-way we recommend publishing the scorecard so that everyone on the team understands the “score”… nothing like a little healthy competition.




Bottom Line:

There are two powerful, simple steps to make working what’s priority or “first things first” a reality where you work. 
1. First work from a shareable, visible list – its hard to prioritize what you can’t see. 
2. Convert working priority into a scorecard by tracking and scoring what % of priority 1 items are getting completed. 

The technology to do both is built into ManagePro.  Call us at (707) 487-3000 and we’ll help you get this system set up at your office… that is if being better at working what’s priority is important to you.

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