Priorities are powerful. Even if you operate at the greatest possible level of productivity, your work won’t mean much if it’s spent on tasks that ultimately have little bearing on the health or development of your company.
An entrepreneur’s job is to prioritize effectively and ensure that the tasks that demand the most attention actually get it, but doing that can be difficult in a position so chaotic and unpredictable.
If you find that you consistently have problems prioritizing, or prioritizing the right items, one or more of these factors might be to blame:
1. Not dedicating time to prioritization.
This is the first mistake, and it’s also one of the most common. Prioritizing your tasks and projects requires a dedicated amount of time to complete, just like the tasks and projects themselves. If you don’t sit down to clearly prioritize the work on your plate, you’ll have no chance of prioritizing effectively—at that point, you’re flying blind and hoping your random allocation of tasks will fall in a way that favors your business.
In effect, prioritization should be your first priority; how you accomplish this is up to you. For some, this means taking 15 minutes at the start of your day to evaluate the tasks in front of you and sort them. For others, this is a daily or weekly team meeting to establish goals and directives.
2. Failing to consider the big picture.
The “big picture” can apply in a few different ways. The big picture and bottom line for most projects will come back to making the company profitable in the long-term. On a project level, the big picture might be achieving a certain goal or adhering to a set of pre-determined standards and expectations.
Every small decision you make within those contexts should be focused on that big picture. Simply put, any project that doesn’t make your company more profitable should be a low priority. As a more complex example, within the context of a project with a tight, inflexible deadline, every decision should be made to ensure the fastest possible turnaround.
3. Getting distracted by the little things.
You might have a dozen high-priority items on your list, but if you’re bogged down by emails and phone calls all day, you’ll never have time to complete them. From one perspective, these little things are distracting you from your top priorities. From another, more objective perspective, these little things are replacing your top priorities as new top priorities.
For the most part, these little things can wait. If you have a project or task that truly demands your attention as the highest priority, set everything else aside. Disconnect from the Internet and turn off your phone if you have to.
4. Not delegating.
Don't get bogged down in work that someone else can handle. Entrepreneurs, especially in small businesses, wear a lot of hats and delve into multiple disciplines, but you shouldn’t let an abundance of tasks interfere with you conquering your most important ones. Even if you’re the type of person who takes pride in doing as much as possible, this approach often leads to work being completed inefficiently in an improper order. Know what you do best and demonstrate trust in your employees by delegating work to them.
5. Refusing to adapt to new information.
Setting priorities should be somewhat firm; if you changed priorities on a constant basis, your work would be chaotic and inefficient. However, occasionally new information will arise that forces your hand. If you’re working on a project to improve your operations, a client emergency can and should take immediate priority.
On the flip side, your highest priority might start as solving a complex emergency-level dilemma, but if you gain new information that the problem has been solved, you should immediately switch to a different focal point. Keep on your toes and remain as straight as you can while rearranging your agenda when necessary.
Take steps to correct these problems before they creep up to threaten another round of prioritization. Even small priority decisions, like deciding what to work on first during a typical Monday morning, can accumulate and build to bear a significant impact on your eventual productivity. There’s no such thing as an absolute “right” or “wrong” decision when it comes to priorities, but each business has unique needs and demands that need to be considered from the top down to be successful.
Entrepreneur Magazine Contributor