Priority Setting

Posted on February 17, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , |

prioritysettingInspiration comes at unusual times. Today at my Master Minds meeting a colleague was struggling (my perception) with having too much to do and not enough time. As the top executive in a not for profit organization, budget is tight and only volunteers are available for taking on extra work — unusual, huh? This woman understood the familiar four quadrant model that divides tasks into important or not important and urgent or not urgent.

In this model, anything that is both important and urgent is the responsibility of the person in charge and should be the top priority. If the task is urgent but not important, it should be delegated to others who can get to them immediately without disrupting the role of the leader. Jobs that are important but not urgent should still reside with the leader but in a lower priority behind the urgent and important tasks. By the way, that last group of tasks — neither urgent nor important can be ignored, nobody need do them and they may simply be considered “noise.”

As we reviewed her daily tasks it was obvious she was all over the place. In the same day she might negotiate a contract with a key vendor, create a dozen journal entries in the organization’s books, answer more than 100 emails and empty the trash. Through the course of discussion, the above diagram seemed to be a useful twist on the familiar four quadrant grid.

With a key event as the target on the horizon, priorities shift through the life of the project. Early on, her focus is getting the right volunteers, gaining alignment and a common sense of purpose. She may lead the event committee(s) but will be setting the stage for committee members (volunteers) to take on tasks in the later stages. While she may do some urgent but not important tasks in the middle of the project, they are virtually non-existent in the most early stages of the project and can typically be ignored. As the diagram illustrates, as the day for the event draws near our director is fully engaged with important and urgent tasks, but “others” are taking more and more of those urgent projects. Finally, on the day of the event, all work should be delegated. This leaves our director available for all unforeseen “important” crises.

Oh, and if something of great importance occurs on the day of the event, it can safely be put off until after the event is concluded. As a former manager taught me, if a problem is really important it will still be there in the morning.

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