Project Management and Leveraging the Power of Priority
In Scott Berkun’s “The Art of Project Management; How to Make Things Happen” he boldly headlines, “Priorities Make Things Happen.” And he has a point, but it almost sounds magical, and we all know it isn’t. In fact if you looked back over this week, which would be most true: “Priorities make things happen… or Distractions take up much of my day and upstage priorities”? I bet it’s often the latter, and I want to show you how to solve that; but first another question.
When you think of priority setting as a project management process, you’re probably familiar with Covey’s famous statement of “First things First” to underscore that we really need to be prioritized in our approach to projects and the work of getting things done in general, and emphasize getting the #1 items completed first. But what happens when distractions seem to take over the #1 spot, how do you cope with that? Are distractions the new number 1, or is something wrong with the process?
And one more. You’re probably familiar with the 80-20 or Pareto principle, which points out that 80% of the outcomes or value is generated by 20% of what you and I do. That means that the majority of what we spend time on doesn’t generate the big outcomes or high value we might aspire to. So prioritize the 20% of your tasks that generate the big, 80% return, and make sure those get your full attention. But how do you identify what that high powered 20% is and keep it in focus throughout the day?
These are both valuable concepts when it comes to leveraging the power of priority setting, but they leave some major questions unanswered. So in this brief blog, I wanted to go beyond those general concepts and show you 3 suggestions you can use to leverage the power that setting and acting in alignment with your priorities provides. I will also be demonstrating how I use the ManagePro technology at work to help me so you get an idea of how technology can be your resource as well. Ready? Here we go:
1. Keep your priorities visually in front of you, within your visual scan. Keep your priorities in something you reference throughout the day so it has the best chance to shape your decisions on what to spend time on. Keep it in your calendar.
In fact don’t just keep your priorities in your calendar, as opposed to some list somewhere, carve out time for completing them in your calendar. That’s right you want to actually create time for it in your calendar… otherwise, when exactly are you going to get to it?
I use ManagePro to support me in doing just that. In fact it can put your priorities up at the top of your calendar each day… waiting for you to drag them down and block out some time to get them taken care of. Take a look at the picture below, hopefully it helps clarify what I’m saying.
2. Documenting leverages the power of priorities over and over again into the future, and the best part is that documenting works best when it is brief. Just a quick summary comment about what happened, what, if any obstacles you ran into, and what the next steps are, will serve to add value by creating a history that inevitably you or someone else may need to reference.
When it comes to priority one items, they usually don’t occur in isolation. They impact or need to be referenced by others. Even if it only impacts you, you may wish you could look back at what were your number one priority items months ago, and just what you did about them. None of that referencing, by others or yourself, is easy to do unless you document what you did.
One more thing about documenting and priorities. Documenting tends to anchor in our brain the connection of the priority to the outcome and that leads to the 3rd and final tip. But before we go there, here’s an example of a priority to-do having a quick, clear bit of documentation that will be helpful for anyone who needs to follow-up.
3. Step back during the day and check your priorities against your top goals or outcomes you need to achieve. Make sure they (your priorities) are still valid as the most critical things to get done.
Priorities change, especially over time. What it may take to reach your top outcomes at 9am, may not be the same at 4:55pm. Sometimes they change multiple times in a day. Why? Because ultimately priorities are tied to outcomes you want or need… and the amount of time remaining! In fact think of using this definition of priority. A #1 priority is what creates the most value in the time remaining.
You might be surprised how easy it is to designate items and tasks as priority one, when after consideration, you realize they aren’t the most critical things to do to drive the outcomes you want to achieve. So always double check priorities in terms of outcomes. If they are no longer critical to getting your goals accomplished, they shouldn’t be #1. What’s important is to keep your eye on the Outcome. Ultimately that’s what’s important, not necessarily the task you prioritized earlier. So you want to keep checking on Outcomes and priorities throughout the day, so you’re not spending time working something that given what just happened, is no longer relevant.
One of the ways I keep my mind on the outcome, is in the to-dos or tasks I prioritize for the day, to reference the ultimate outcome or project I’m in the business of completing. In ManagePro I use the “Related Goal” field for just that purpose as seen below.
Bottom Line: Think of defining what’s priority as what creates the most value in the time remaining. The 20% or less of your tasks that are going to generate 80% of our results. And then, before you leave that thought, get realistic about priorities. In order to leverage applying priorities to your work life, you’re going to need to establish a process to counter-act getting distracted. We all fight against that. And one of my favorite tips to help you in that challenge is get your priorities displayed in your calendar, just like a meeting. It makes it so much easier to keep them in your visible scan, and carve out time to ensure they get done. See if that won’t help you leverage the power of priorities.