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Do you know what ‘priorities’ are?

In most organisations, ‘priorities’ consists of a long list of important ‘stuff’. The bigger the organisation, the longer the list. What’s more, the higher the number of individual departments in the aforementioned corporate monolith, the more varied and even greater the priority number.

Each department, if it is like the public sector, will have its priorities met by the activities of other departments and, more often than not, front-line staff.

Think about that.

Department A will set priorities, as will departments B and C. All three departments’ activities will be conducted by their staff. Department A’s priorities may not be B’s (etc), but without a doubt Dept A will state that ‘X must be done by the end of the day and returns submitted by 5pm by staff in Departments B and C.’  Meanwhile, Department B expects the same of staff in Departments A and C, which means all three departments will be working hard at complying with three sets of priorities, and I’ll bet a week’s wages that they all have to be complied with ‘by 5pm’ so even though NOTHING WILL BE DONE WITH THEM until the end of the next week.

But by setting that 5pm today deadline, they expect that any late returns won’t be too late. In other words, an artificial deadline is set so they save time – at the expense of the other people running around after them.

Ring a bell?

Did you know that ‘priority’ means:

“the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important.”

Synonyms include: “prime concern, first concern, most important consideration, most pressing matter, (etc).”

Notice that each of those terms implies that NOTHING is more important than the ‘priority’.

Make a note, staple it to your forehead and wear it as you walk into to the C-Suite.

If you have too many priorities, you have NO priorities.

I suggest that, in acknowledgement that some organisations do have more than one ‘service responsibility’, the number of priorities should at least be reduced to a couple, instead of hundreds; that the departments in the entity be told when ‘their’ priority is not a priority at all; and that staff be so briefed so that they can act on THE priorities that remain.

This is not to suggest that all work is not important. But there are degrees to which (for example) the assembly of statistics (and their circulation to the disinterested) by an administration department is far less important than the activity of the front-line employee actually delivering the service that your organisation was created to deliver.

And, might I say, constantly berating said employee for not blindly prioritising the said admin department’s number crunching really has to stop.

I say this because, from a time management perspective, creating false priorities warps the decision-making of the employee to the degree that mistakes are made in failed efforts to comply with too many masters.

You make better decisions when you have to make fewer decisions.

And having to many priorities undermines quality decision-making.