When you set priorities, there are usually other factors involved besides what goes on your own world. You may need help or outside resources to get tasks completed or move them forward consistently. These outside factors may influence the level of priority that you give to certain tasks, so they need to be considered.
For example, imagine that you’re an independent consultant. You have one job due in two days and one job due in one week. It makes sense to make the two-days job your first priority. But for the one-week job, you need the client’s approval on something before you can move forward. In this case, you may want to make getting that client’s approval a higher priority than the two-day job. Remember, things may appear one way on the surface until you consider those outside factors that could potentially cause a log jam or just bring everything to a halt.
In another typical scenario, there is one part of the job where you need help. You have to hire an assistant to complete a specialized task. Since it takes time for you to assign this task to the assistant and then wait for the deliverables, you should bump this task up on your list of things to do.
Get Ready to Adjust Your Priorities
Before prioritizing your list of things to do, you should consider what kinds of outside help you need for each and take this into account. Then you can truly understand how to set your priorities accordingly.
If it helps, write down the reason why a certain item is moved to the top of the list. Write down the action you’re waiting for (response from the client, deliverable from someone you hired) and a note to move the item back down the list when this step is completed.
Break Down Each Step
You know the old saying about eating an elephant one spoonful at a time. (Although I’m not sure I would ever eat an elephant.) This adage applies in so many business situations and setting priorities is a biggie. Taking on bigger projects is all about understanding how it breaks down into smaller tasks and milestones. For example, sending the deliverables for the client’s approval would be a task and be assigned a deadline, just like any other job. While the deadline for the entire job is two weeks, the deadline for getting the client’s approval might be three days.
For each job, take the time to identify any outside help you need and break the job up into phases. Then, set a deadline for each phase in addition to the overall job itself. You can also see these as milestones where next actions are triggered. Always keep in mind what the next step will be after completing a task. Deadlines might include:
- Invoicing clients
- Waiting for approval
- Important communications that need to be made
- Resources that need to be gathered
- Research that needs to be done before you can start (for example, what software program to buy)
If you don’t take the time to consider these factors in the early stages and include them in your plan, you may be setting yourself up for a panic situation getting things completed at the last minute. Most outside factors are not 100% under your control. Realize that this can affect your overall deadline and cause issues. That’s why it’s very important to be flexible with your list of things to do, review your plan regularly and move those priorities when needed to align with those outside forces you cannot always control.