“Action expresses priorities.” -― Mahatma Gandhi
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” -― Stephen R. Covey
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” -― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Your priority list is not your To-Do list. It's not your backlog. (Although, you should prioritize your lists. But, how do you prioritize them? Hint – this is where your priorities list comes in.)
Your priorities list is your little list of what’s most important. It’s your little list of the most important things to achieve.
How important is your little priorities list? Let's put it in proper perspective. A lack of priorities, or the wrong priorities, are one of the leading causes of failure in management, leadership, and otherwise highly capable employees.
Time management tips #20 is priorities list. If you don't have one, make one now. What else could be more important than having a list of priorities list at your finger tips? (If you had your priorities list you would know the answer to that.)
When you have your little list of priorities, you can say "No" to things. When you have your little list of priorities, you can check with your manager, or team, or your customers, or your spouse -- are these really the priorities? Most importantly, you can check with yourself.
Have you identified the little list of the things that are most important to YOU? If you know you are working on the most important things, it's easier to focus. It's easier to give your best. It's easier to stop the distractions. It's easier to say, "No" to all the little things that tug at your attention, or compete for your time.
It's also where peace of mind comes from. It's instant. When you know you are working on the right things at the right time, you are on path.
Conflict of priorities is one of the leading causes of churn, procrastination, and every other productivity killer you can think of. The only thing worse is having nothing that's important. And you know what they say, if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
Resolving conflicts in priorities has been known to part the clouds and make the sun shine brighter.
In general, you can think of your priorities as your "Why" or "What", while other lists tend to be the "How." That's a generalization since obviously things will bleed, but what's important is that you have a short, explicit list of your priorities. When they swirl around in your head they get distorted, so get them out in the open. When you are in the thick of things, be able to give them a glance, and know whether to about-face or march on.
As Scott Berkun says, "Priorities are the backbone of progress." It's true. After all, if you are making progress against anything else, does it matter?
Here is an example of a set of my priorities for a month:
Three Key Wins
- High quality Service Description pages for Library
- “Run State” IP well defined
- “the platform” IA for IP – minimum critical set complete
- Service Delivery of Services in Library
- IP Collection (Learning Lab Refresh)
- Project Plan with Milestones
- Sweep Timeline (convert existing to be right and useful)
- Knowledge Base Refresh
- User Stories – New / Existing (“3-Frame Set”)
- Cloud Vantage Framework Update
We can ignore the details, and focus on the structure. I had three wins I identified with my manager for the month, and a list of seven outcomes that were top priority. Did I have a backlog a mile long, and a laundry list of hundreds (if not thousands) of things to do? Yes. Did I also have short lists of rated and ranked items for the month? Yes, that's the list above. Did I also have rated and ranked items for each week? You bet. And did I have short-lists of rated and ranked items each day? Absolutely.
While priorities aren't the silver bullet, they are your way to "push back." They are your "push" when you need it most. They also are your "pull", that you can ignore at your own peril. They are also your "peace of mind."
If you haven't prioritized your priority list, you're missing out.
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