Priority Management and Self-Care

Are you overworked, stretched thin, and your wellness is at stake? But, a “Great Breakup” with work is not a viable option or it is not your preference.

The McKinsey & Company and “Women in the Workplace 2022” study indicates the above as dilemmas women continue to manage.

While there is no one solution, these readily available strategies — priority management and delegation — can help leaders mitigate overload.  This blog covers priority management.

 “To change your life, you need to change your priorities.”

Mark Twain

Without clear priorities, everything may appear equally important. Or, whatever is squeaking the loudest on a given day gets the attention and becomes the priority, whether it is genuinely most important or not.

So, priority management is a lever that empowers decision-making, enabling you to think ahead about how to focus time, energy, and effort on what is most important.

Why Manage Your Priorities

There are personal and business implications:

  • Better manage work-life integration and balance. Priority management ensures focusing on what is important, at work and personally. You can discern between the significant few and the trivial many that compete for your attention. 
  • Increase your margin and capacity to focus on the most important things. There are responsibilities that only you can do as a leader. Setting priorities helps to spotlight the 20% (relatively speaking) of duties that need your attention. You can then decide what to delegate to others.  
  • Manage stress and potential burnout. There is no shortage of things that will require energy and fill time. Establishing priorities helps to inventory responsibilities with a focus on business impacts, fully engaging your team to accomplish business goals. That becomes the yardstick for self-management, rather than attempting to do everything at once or doing everything oneself.
A bonus is that as you practice priority management as the leader, that discipline should trickle down to your team, prompting an overall behavioral shift of focusing first on effectiveness (the right things) and then efficiency (doing those things correctly and timely).

Ways to Manage Priorities

Consider these three priority management techniques:

Master List

Create an inventory of everything that is competing for your attention.

Step 1: Write down all your duties on one list. 

Step 2: Scan the list for what is important and urgent, needing immediate attention and what to schedule for the future.

Step 3: Break down the list by monthly, weekly, and daily actions required to achieve business goals. Then, work the lists, adjusting as needed to ensure a continued focus on what is important.

Step 4: Review and refine your lists weekly — adding, changing, or deleting activities, spending time on what will advance the business rather than engaging in busy work that does not require your attention.

Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is an approach to help pinpoint priorities. It comprises four quadrants:

  • Important, Urgent require immediate attention, such as a commitment with an imminent deadline or a client-or community-impacting situation.
  • Important, Not Urgent can be scheduled for later but not wholly overlooked—for example, strategic planning or professional development.
  • Not Important, Urgent can be delegated to others. This may include colleagues requesting help or emails seeking expertise or action, but neither rises to the level of importance meriting your engagement.
  • Not Important, Not Urgent can be removed from your list. An example is routinely scrolling social posts for an extended time when there is no business relevance. 

Action Step

Map your current duties to the below quadrants. Then, determine what requires immediate attention, can be scheduled, delegated to others, or eliminated from your list.

The Ivy Lee Method

This method dates back to 1918 when its founder Ivy Lee, a productivity consultant, worked with Charles M. Schwab, then president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. 

It’s a four-step process:

  1. Each night, jot down the five or six most important things you want to accomplish the next day.
  2. List them in priority order – the most important thing to work on first in the morning.
  3. Focus on one task at a time, working from most to least important until you finish the entire list.
  4. Move any unfinished things to the next day’s list of tasks – the list should not exceed six.

A Call to Action

Whether you choose one or a combination of the above approaches, positioning yourself to say “yes” to the important things and repositioning those things that are not essential for you to handle helps to gain control over your environment.

Which of the above will you begin today? 

As Mark Twain said, you change your life when you change your priorities. Embracing a priority management approach clarifies where you will spend your time, energy, and effort to achieve the most significant business results while practicing self-care.

Part II of this blog covers delegation.

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport

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Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and leadership strategist. Her signature program, M3 LeadershipSM, prepares you to enhance and develop your self-awareness, embrace your inner strength, and lead with confidence, courage, and impact.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.