THE MAIN POINT (244 words—49 seconds reading time)
How many times have you and I heard, “I don’t have enough time.” We’ve even heard more than once (even from clients), “I don’t have enough money.”
You always have enough time. You always have enough money. What you don’t have enough of is priority. We have time for some things and not for others. We have money for some things and not for others. We have time for things of high priority to us. We have money for things of high priority.
Priority is very powerful. Priority dictates what we think and do. Priority carries with it an expectation. The expectation by both ourselves and our supervisors (or clients) is that we’ll work on the high priority items before the low priority (time) and that we’ll procure the high priority items before the low (money).
As we discussed some time ago, meeting expectations is the difference between success and failure. Priority setting is a special form of setting expectations. When we set objectives, we’re focusing on results. When we set priority, we’re focusing on process. (This whole series of weekly thoughts—starting 20 weeks ago—emphasizes the importance of process.) Results are the consequence of process. It makes more sense to set process-oriented expectations because when we meet those expectations, we inevitably get the results we want. When we set results-oriented expectations and haven’t determined carefully what the process is to get those results, we’ll fail the expectations. Priority is a special type of expectation.
THE FOLLOW UP (467 words—93 seconds reading time)
Someone is thinking about now: People, in fact, don’t work on high priority before low priority. I may have enough priority, but I may not follow through with the high priority. I may waste my time on low priority. I may waste my money on low priority. What I think is high priority may not be high priority—or is it?
We have different kinds of priority. We may have immediate priorities. We may have long-range priorities. What is a high immediate priority may not be a high priority given the long term. We may have snap-decision priorities. We may have thought-through priorities (somewhat different from long-range priorities).
One of the most important ideas Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People) makes is the distinction between the urgent and the important. He says (and he’s right) that we tend to work on the urgent before the important. The urgent is the immediate priority. The important is the thought-through priority (and often the long-range priority). By the way, I believe people in the Washington DC area are addicted to crises and the urgent. Our culture leads us even more than most to focus on the urgent.
We tend to work on the things that are both urgent and important because they often present themselves as crises. But, we tend to work on the things that are urgent and not important before we work on the things that are important and not urgent. And that’s where we get into trouble, because there are only so many hours in the day and something drops off the table. What drops off the table is usually important.
And we can do worse. Have you ever worked on a task that’s neither urgent nor important? I have. I usually work on those tasks for what I consider to be mental health. So, does that make the task important but not urgent? Maybe. An example at home is that I’ve liked to do big jigsaw puzzles (thousands of pieces) for most of my life. I sit up all night working on the puzzle and in the morning I have tangible evidence of accomplishment—something that doesn’t usually come up so tangibly or quickly in the rest of my life or work. But I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle in at least ten years. So that’s what’s wrong with me! One of these days, I’ll do a thought of the week on the four different kinds of workaholics. I’m the worst kind.
Questions to ponder: Who sets priorities at your workplace? What do you do if your boss doesn’t participate in setting priorities for your responsibilities? What do you do to participate in setting priorities for those who report to you? Where’s the fine line between being a dedicated employee and being a workaholic?