At the restart of any business year, we often hear people say that there is so much to do that they don’t have enough time to appropriately handle all the priorities coming at them, all at once.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
Especially as you start your New Year, when a number of the issues you have already been dealing with may now have been re-labeled or viewed as urgent, critical or even an emergency.
As a result, a common question is: “How can one get a better perspective on what may feel like a lot of pressure?”
If you’re a manager, “How can you help your people handle their workloads more effectively and efficiently?”
Part of the problem, we’ve discovered, is that the business cultures in many companies have inadvertently and unintentionally “normalized” themselves into the idea that everything is urgent.
Yours may be one of them.
The problem with “normalizing urgency” is that when something is actually urgent, the people in these cultures don’t know how to appropriately deal with it, leading, more often than not, to unwarranted and unnecessary additional stress.
So, let’s start with a simple truth.
Not everything can be “urgent”.
While all activities and tasks, framed by a company’s collective job descriptions, are important, not everything can be urgent. If everything is urgent, your company has much bigger problems than time management and may, actually, be out of control.
To get a handle on managing the consequential unproductive pressure of overusing the word “urgent”, it often helps to simply introduce some agreed upon definitions for your function, department or business.
The suggested definitions are…
Important. This means that something important has to be proactively addressed in the sequence and order of priority on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. It’s a person’s ongoing “to do” list. These tasks and issues are dealt with all the time and are framed by the individual’s job description.
Urgent. This means it has to be dealt with “reactively” (proactively if possible) and usually occurs as an unannounced surprise event or issue that needs to be addressed immediately to maintain and sustain stability.
Critical or Crisis. This is something that could negatively harm or impact the company from a legal, financial, moral or ethical perspective and, as a result, needs to be dealt with instantly to mitigate the anticipated harm.
Emergency. This is a life threatening situation where there is potential serious physical, mental or emotional harm and/or consequences to an individual or individuals.
With these suggested definitions in place, here are some guidelines on how to now prioritize and better manage your time.
1. Everything on your “to do” list is important. Your “top ten” are obviously the most important and your “top three” are the “top-of-the-top”. Focus on them first.
2. Your business can probably (and practically) handle ONE urgent thing a month.
This would be something that is so important that it trumps your “top ten” and “top three” important lists.
If there is more than one “urgent” thing a month, it’s worth checking to see that individual and departmental goals, communication, staffing, training, job descriptions and overall strategy are all optimally assigned and delegated.
In start-ups, “urgent” issues are sometimes more common because the company is still trying to figure out its pattern-of-success (what works and what doesn’t).
3. Hopefully you have no more than ONE critical or crisis thing per quarter, which trumps everything that is “important” and, if it coincides with an “urgent” thing, it trumps that too.
4. We can all wish for none or at most ONE emergency a year. Which trumps everything!
When these simple but effective guidelines are negotiated, introduced, monitored, managed and maintained, prioritization becomes clearer and productivity goes up, while stress immediately goes down.
The result is that the company then gets more done with less frenetically focused energy.
If you are interested in more time management suggestions, please click here for additional tips on how to better manage your time.