Often, when we feel overwhelmed or overloaded at work it’s a sign that we need to prioritize our workload and focus on the most mission-critical tasks. As you prioritize, you will need to align your time, energy, and attention, yet even with careful assessment of every item on your to-do list, you may still feel like you are falling short.
We have worked with thousands of leaders seeking to optimize their performance, and over the years we have compiled a list of 8 pitfalls to prioritization that can interfere with achieving this goal. If you find yourself falling behind, or discover that you have been focusing on the wrong tasks, consider if any of the following pitfalls are to blame.
1. Mislabeling Distractions
Sometimes the projects we want to do become a distraction from the projects we need to do. It can be hard to call existing day-to-day projects distractions even though they may not be as important or urgent as more strategic efforts. Be ruthless about identifying your distractions to ensure clear prioritization.
2. Not Upsetting Others
As a leader, you will not please everyone! This does not mean you need to be a jerk about it, but recognize that some people will not always get what they want. Use the 7 Prioritization Questions to ensure you are not upsetting the wrong people.
3. Ignoring Your Own or Your Team Member's Personal Values
Check with your inner compass to make sure you are focusing on projects and doing it in a way that is aligned with everyone's personal and professional values.
4. Keeping to Yourself
Sometimes we can over or underestimate the importance or urgency of a specific task. We can get caught in our own assumptions and biases. Use a trusted colleague to check yourself and make sure you are viewing the task accurately and considering other perspectives.
5. Not Having Weekly Check-Ins
Check-in with your boss and your team once a week by discussing three powerful performance questions:
- What did you do this past week?
- What are you going to do this next week?
- What support do you need?
Memorializing and reviewing these answers each week offers an ideal opportunity to adjust and validate priorities
6. Aiming for Perfection
Too often high performers expect high levels of quality and amazing results all the time. After all, they are high performers. However, not everything deserves flawless quality or execution. Consistently striving for high (and often unrealistic) performance standards with all efforts can add unnecessary effort and stress. Sometimes "good enough" might be the right standard of performance.
7. Ignoring Your Limitations
Whether we like it or not, we are all going to die with things still on our to-do list. We can't get everything done. You may have an amazing capacity, endurance, or intelligence but recognize your limits. You will still get tired and either the quality may suffer or you will be short with others - or both! Be honest with yourself and acknowledge your limitations in what you can take on and what you can deliver. Your team will thank you.
8. Allowing Interruptions
It takes approximately 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to get into "the zone" and do your best work. Resist repeatedly checking your email, texts, and social messages. Schedule blocks of time to do your best work and resist the interruptions that can sidetrack you away from your most important work.