Priority management: What managers really mean when they talk about time
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Priority management: What managers really mean when they talk about time

When you think about strategies for dealing with time management issues, a typical crop of answers comes to mind. Making lists. Shutting off e-mail alerts and other distractions. Recording how long every task takes. These are all fine, but they miss a key point.

Time management has very little to do with time. What people typically call “time management” is probably better referred to as “priority management.” Getting eight out of 10 tasks on a to-do list done might sound good, but if those last two items are the ones your boss needed accomplished the most, then your boss probably thinks you aren’t spending your time wisely. And he or she is right.

Meanwhile, if you manage to complete only five of 10 tasks on your list, but those five are high-impact, game-changing accomplishments that help bring in new business or present a new strategy for the organization, that looks like a pretty good use of time.

Whose priorities? Their priorities!
The key to priority management is understanding whose priorities are important. The answer, naturally, is your boss’s. Your boss is charged with executing the company’s strategy and getting results through her people. The best way to manage your time effectively and be seen as a productive employee is to understand what items rank highly on your boss’s to-do list, and execute those first.

So what does it look like when employees REALLY understand which priorities matter?

Imagine you were lost in the woods and starving. Would you have any doubt about your priorities? No. You wouldn’t be distracted by wildflowers on the side of the path. Or songbirds twittering in the trees. Every thought and action would be focused on finding food.

That’s how employees with good “time management” skills think. Every thought and action is focused on accomplishing the boss’s priorities.

Simple but hard
But if it’s that simple, why do so many employees struggle with it?

Because they get caught up chasing after shiny objects. They start out on the right path, completing important tasks. But somewhere down the line the sense of urgency gets lost. They start focusing on trying to create something truly special that they can show off to their peers. So they spend time digging into minutiae, focusing on smaller, less important details until eventually they’ve lost sight of the bigger task at hand. Of course, employees with good time management see shiny objects as well, but they’re disciplined enough to keep their eye on what’s important.

People who have a laser focus on priorities are perceived as off-the-charts productive – and companies reward them handsomely. Understand what your boss considers a priority, and make it yours, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering time … er, priority, management.

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