The ability to prioritize competing responsibilities is an important skill for leaders and employees at companies of all sizes. Whether this need arises from multiple initiatives launching simultaneously, multiple clients with high table stakes, or just a resource issue involving too few people to do too much work, your prioritization chops can easily make or break your success in your role.

In a perfect world, there's someone above you constantly helping you to prioritize your work. Of course, we all know that rarely happens - especially if you're a leader, in which case it's your responsibility to help frame competing priorities so your team is clear on where to focus their energy.

Prioritizing often becomes easier once you have an understanding of what drives growth. I'm not a fan of to-do lists, which can create a false feeling of accomplishment related to crossing off minor tasks versus major milestones. For some roles, that works...but if you're leading all or part of a company, a task-oriented to-do list may unfortunately orient your time towards high-volume, low-impact efforts. Instead, try out these parameters to organize your priorities:

Highest Impact First

As CEO, this is my mantra. Lots of little fires land on my desk throughout the day, and plenty of competing priorities pop up to contend for a share of my time.

Fortunately, I'm blessed with an amazing team who can (and should) take on many of those fires so that I can remain focused on the high impact work required to drive progress in our organization. That may change from time to time, and it's up to me to direct, but as you might guess it typically centers on themes of vision and growth.

Note that "high impact" is different from "urgent" or even "important." "Urgent" may be the statement you have to come up with to publicly address an unexpected PR crisis. "Important" may the routine you conduct to review and ensure monthly payroll reimbursements are legit. But "high impact" probably looks more like an effort to launch a new sales vertical within the business, involving prolonged hard work but resulting in a net positive impact to the bottom line. Like any big undertaking, it's best to break high impact initiatives down into smaller benchmark components to keep them moving forward.

Urgent and important items can easily chip away at your availability to focus on high impact initiatives. Having a game plan in place to empower others to deal with those urgent and important time demands in a way that does not involve you will ensure that you can continue to drive growth regardless of these inevitable time sucks.

Know Your Own Biorhythms

I don't talk much before my morning coffee - but after 2pm, I can be a chatty Kathy. The same basic wordiness rules apply to my writing efforts. As a result, I never try to write before noon, and whenever possible, all of my media interviews and staff one-to-ones take place in the late morning or afternoon. Prioritize your responsibilities around your own biorhythms to avoid frustration and get the most out of your limited time.

Delegation/Asking For Help

Sometimes, leaders charged with wrangling high-impact, high-effort initiatives hamstring themselves by insisting that they put their fingerprints on the entire initiative from start to finish. Whether this stems from a desire for recognition or a lack of trust in their team, it's a limiting factor.

Your time is a limited resource. If you can't actively and honestly identify the things that your team can competently handle for you and then assign those roles to them, you'll have a hard time moving initiatives forward.

Rein In Inclinations If Needed

A frequent contributor to time management issues is our own inclination to spend time on tasks we like to do versus the challenging, high-impact work we should focus on. Some of us prefer being the mouthpiece of the company, or focusing on operations, or serving in an auxiliary human resources role around developing the team. While all of these things are important, a leader's involvement in this type of work can't be at the expense of the high-impact initiatives where they can present unique bottom-line value.

Different prioritization methods work for different people, of course. If you're struggling with juggling competing priorities, try out a few of these tips and see how they work for you.

Published on: Feb 1, 2018