Do you recall those halcyon days in business when you only needed to concentrate on one thing at a time? When the tasks lined up one by one like respectful dominos, waiting patiently for your attention? The days when customers didn’t demand, they politely enquired? And when you could cheerfully put off tomorrow’s decisions until the day after. Do you remember? No, me neither.
It seems that now though, more than ever before, we juggle priorities and spin decision plates while walking the tightrope of keeping our customers satisfied, only to have to mount the unicycle of trying to balance our work and lives. (OK, I’ll quit the circus metaphors now).
But, was it always like this in business? No, it most definitely was not! In fact, it was only in the 20th century that our barmy culture changed the ‘y’ in priority to an ‘i’ and added ‘es.’ In other words, priorities did not exist a hundred years ago! The word priority, by it’s very nature, can only be singular, a point I’ve made in many a senior manager meeting, mainly to blank expressions or shrugged shoulders.
Right, here’s the science: apparently, according to dictionary.com, the word priority began in the 14th Century and came from the French word, priorite, which, in turn, originated from a Latin word, prioritas. The two parts of the word (prior, meaning ‘being first or preceding’ and ite , meaning ‘the condition of’), then, signify ‘the condition of being first.’ Thus, inherent in the definition, there can only be one priority, not umpteen, as are found on the objectives of most modern managers.
Alas, however, it seems that nowadays being restricted to only one priority will just not do. It seems that we need multiple ‘firsts’ on our to-do lists, perhaps to make us feel more important. The fact is, though, that if everything is important, then, paradoxically, nothing is.
In recent years, jobs have become more and more complex. Rules, processes, systems, hierarchy, all the things that build up over time. Industry is strangled with red tape and buried under legislation. Everything is urgent, deadlined and must be done yesterday. Little wonder that so many feel completely overwhelmed and are suffering from burnout.
But, it is possible to prioritize your priorities, and below I’ve outlined three simple suggestions. The starting point is to understand what defines success for you. What does it look and feel like? How will you know once you’ve got there? Once you have done that, get rid of everything that doesn’t contribute to it and focus on your priority.
Tips to be clear on your PRIORITY:
- Be clear about success. Do you know what this looks like? It’s essential that you and everyone in the organization understand the measures and their individual role in making this happen.
- KISS- Keep It Simple, Stupid! So many tasks, reports, objectives and ways of working are still flying around your job that have little connection to your current priority. They’re probably leftovers from previous priorities and are taking valuable resource away from what matters now. Sometimes it’s comforting to hold onto habits, processes and activities but use your common sense and get rid of what’s no longer contributing to your priority.
- Say Yes, then say No. You know what you need to start doing but do you know what to stop doing? As you add new, you must ditch old. Just adding creates confusion and complexity. If you’re a leader, you must help your people maintain a clear and consistent focus on what really matters. So, everytime you say Yes to something, ask yourself, what am I saying No to?
While it may not always be possible to return to our medieval roots and only have one priority, there are benefits to be had from keeping it simple (stupid!). If you make this a priority I believe you will have a very productive day!