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Juggling Priorities

Did you know that the word “priority” wasn’t used in the plural form until the 1940s? There was only the “priority,” the very first or prior thing, there weren’t “priorities” because you couldn’t have more than one. The word “prioritize” only started being used during the 1972 U.S. presidential contest. That says a lot about the way the workforce has evolved in the last century where we have learned to pile on more and more competing priorities. Usually, one of two things happens. You either figure out how to juggle your priorities and keep all of your balls in the air, or you enter a state of burnout and essentially let your balls drop.

What if the role of leadership was not to pile on more priorities, but to define the priority so that the team always knew the direction and focus that was going to drive them towards organizational goals? A great leader will set, communicate and protect the team’s time for the priority.

In order to prioritize the priority you will have to identify what the responsibilities are that come with each task you are currently juggling and what tasks can be dropped. Then you will need a game plan.

A great way to start is by being honest with yourself and defining what you and your team can and cannot handle. What other commitments do you have during the timeline with work and family? How involved will the commitments be? What specific tasks will need to be completed? We often put pressure on ourselves to take on everything that comes our way; to not say “no” to anyone. But in the end, this does not serve us. It feeds burnout and makes it harder to commit to doing each task to the best of your ability. The constant challenges and priorities of your organization can make it feel like you are juggling. As you add more and more responsibilities, juggling gets harder. And occasionally you will drop a ball or two. Or you will keep them all in the air at the expense of your family time or your mental health. Being honest with yourself can help you say “no” when too many balls are handed to you. Juggling requires skill and practice. If you know your limits and what you and your team can handle, you are more likely to juggle successfully.

Choose what current and future projects you can offload, delegate or push back the deadline(s) where possible. Start with a To Do list of all your projects and priorities. When you look at the list, are there any projects that someone else could help with or take over? Which projects could be completed without you? Are there projects that are not urgent and have a negotiable deadline? Move those items on your list to another list of Offload, Delegate or Push Back projects.

Now look at your list and rank each item in order of importance. To find your lowest priorities, ask yourself, “What does not need to be completed today?” If defining the most important priority is a challenge, consult a trusted coworker or superior. Someone that can look at your list objectively and know your strengths and blind spots. If you do not have access to someone for input, list your organizational goals. Compare your prioritization list and link which priorities directly contribute to your organizational goals. Top priorities may become clearer as you review your list. You can also try using the Eisenhower Matrix to help identify the most urgent priorities.

The next step is developing your game plan. Write it down! Come up with your plan for attacking your priority first. The rest of your list includes other priorities in order of importance. As with any type of goal, having a written plan helps you stay the course, to stick to your plan of completing priorities. Your game plan is your roadmap to completion. Your plan may include blocking out time on your calendar for each task each day until they are finished, or it may be that you divide up tasks among your team and you focus on keeping everyone on track and bringing the project together in the end. You will also need to identify what you will do with the tasks that moved to your Offload, Delegate or Push Back list. Whatever your game plan, remember to take time for yourself. Block out time for lunch or to take a walk. Include self-care actives that help you stay focused, refreshed and on task when you are working.

With these strategies in your toolbox, when you are handed a new project or task, you will be equipped to determine if and how you can fit it into your overall workflow schedule. You are empowered to be honest with yourself and others about your timeline and capacity for the new project or why you will not be able to take it on. We all know that small fires or urgent matters pop up daily that will distract you from your tasks at hand. But when you have a game plan, including blocks of time for your projects and yourself, your agility allows you to adjust and adapt where needed to make room for the urgent task that popped up.

No one wants you or your team to experience burnout. It costs your organization in time and often recruiting and training, should you decide to leave. Defining your priority, following your game plan and saying “no” when necessary, will allow you to juggle your projects and tasks effectively.

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