One of my clients recently confided how stressed he was with what seemed to be a revolving door of priorities. He’d get things handled and then management would issue another set of priorities, or worse yet, change the priorities before he was able to handle the previous “#1” issue(s). He was already working 12-hour days and couldn’t remember the last time he spent a full weekend with his family. “The priorities just keep coming,” he said. “It’s not like I don’t care and don’t want to get the work done. It’s just that there are too many and I’m never going to catch up.”
Does this sound familiar? Do you, too, feel an impending doom as you try and “catch up?” My friend, you’re not alone. In fact, I liken this feeling of “doom” to the old arcade game, Space Invaders. You know the one where the green aliens seem to come out of nowhere. You try your best but there’s just too many of them to eliminate before you’re the one that’s destroyed.
Folks, we’re not going to let that happen. This blog is about how to keep perspective while tackling – and prioritizing – the “endless” priorities before they tackle you.
The Harsh Reality . . . Shifting Priorities are a Necessary Response to Market Change
The first thing we need to accept is that priorities are not going to stop coming or changing. We are in a “dog-eat-dog world.” There’s just no other way to put it. The loser is the organization that falls asleep at the wheel and thinks they have nothing left to improve. Right, wrong or indifferent, your executives are externally facing, meaning they will respond to the market. What does this mean? If the market changes, they change.
So how do we keep up with the constant barrage of priorities?
- Have an extremely “agile” mindset around priorities. Like change, priorities are also constantly evolving. Embrace the fact that some priorities will change mid-stream. If you don’t, you are going to be deflated each and every time it happens. Eventually, you won’t want to work on anything, much less fully commit to a project. Yes, it might seem upper management is indecisive or lacks planning. But today’s hypercompetitive world has made unanticipated market changes the norm, and shifting priorities the response.
- Calibrate with your boss frequently. If they don’t know, go beyond your “borders” of influence and find out. If you are going to survive, you must know what the top priorities are for your role. Just working on your “piece of the pie” does not necessarily mean you are working on the right, or most important items. The last thing you need is to complete a project finding out you were focusing on a second-tier priority.
- Don’t make priorities about your importance. Own excellence in delivery and your own expertise. But don’t personalize your work so much that you allow yourself to get frustrated and stressed out because things don’t seem to work out your way. At the end of the day, “it’s just work,” no more, no less.
- Embrace the fact that there is no way for you to handle all of the priorities at once. So accept it now and save yourself a ton of heartache and the Rolaids! Instead, figure out which ones can “ride” while you address today’s most pressing issue (yes, priorities can change daily J). Seek guidance from your boss or others “in the know.” Then clear your head and work on the issue(s) at hand. Most importantly, don’t waste precious energy by beating yourself up. No one can juggle 100 priorities and keep “all of the balls in the air” without dropping one. Prioritize. Address. Move on.
- Work hard and play hard! Put in a hard day’s work of which you’re proud. Then leave it behind and be with the people you care about. Rejuvenate. Refresh. Regroup. I know this is easier said than done. But you won’t be any good to your company or your family if you don’t take time for yourself. The priorities will be there tomorrow but your kids only grow up once. Know what’s important to you in your personal life and make that a priority. Just as you’re prioritizing at work.
My Priority Challenge to You
Your leadership challenge as an executive: Communicate your priorities frequently. This means more than just once a quarter. Conversely, seek frequent updates from your people. Nobody likes surprises and frequent updates helps everyone stay in the loop and adjust if necessary…together!
Your leadership challenge as an employee: Pro-actively get feedback on your priorities from upper management. Remove the “fear of looking incompetent” from your psyche. What’s worse? Looking incompetent or suffering from ulcers over which priority is most important? To be clear, you are not asking management to do the work. You are asking them for guidance. That is part of their role to you.
I’m Here to Help You Own It
Privately send me your challenges, questions and comments or use the forum below. I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, but I will be candid, truthful and genuine. All of us can inspire, lead and achieve and drive higher performance and organizational health if we simply work at it.