May 3, 2014

Team Management

Live to work or work to live. Part 6. Priorities: How to weed out the superfluous and find time for important

By Alexander Sergeev

Live to work or work to live. Part 5. Planning: how to meet deadlines

Unfortunately, many people face the problem of inability to prioritize. They want a lot: to succeed at work, to be happy in personal life, to go to a restaurant with friends, to read an interesting book… but it’s impossible to do everything, you have to choose. Our whole life is a continuous choice. And it’s better if it is done consciously.

Strategies of rejection

Prioritization starts with clearing your life of imposed affairs. At the level of a particular day it means the ability to say “no” to the cases that do not meet your goals, values ​​or principles.

However, if people appreciate personal, informal relationships, any rejection is perceived as a personal insult.

Therefore, you need to learn to say “no” without damaging the relationship. There are some basic strategies for refusal:

  1. “Military trick”. “I’m wish I could help you, but unfortunately I’m busy / I have no opportunity and so on”. This strategy is dangerous because the deception can be revealed and the relationship may be hopelessly spoiled.
  2. “Logical reasoning”. “I would like to help you, but it seems to me, that there is no need to do this work right now, because…”. This strategy is most reasonable and therefore often used. The problem is that each argument has its counterargument.
  3. “Give hope”. “I can not promise anything, but I’ll do my best to help you”. It is one of the simplest and requiring less time strategy, because you do not spoil relations and do not promise anything.
  4. “Make the desired unattractive”. “I can help you get the project, but it will bring little profit”. A combination of “Military trick” and “Logical reasoning” with all their shortcomings.
  5. “The third way”. “I can not help you with the project, but I will help you to write a plan and give you advice how to perform it better”.

Thus, there are five typical ways of rejection. There is no “right” or “wrong” among them, each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. A person usually uses one or two strategies. Try to add to your arsenal some of the strategies that you have not applied.

The art of saying “no”

Unfortunately, very few people can say a firm polite “no” without explanation. It’s considered necessary to argue, excuse or cheat instead of refusing without explanation. It is disadvantage, with which we have to work.

Saying “no” does not mean becoming a person that loses friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, you can help the leader or the colleagues with some personal issues, but if you for some reason do not want to do it – do not be afraid to refuse politely but firmly. But don’t forget to point out that you are willing to help and your rejection in this particular situation does not mean refusal to help in genera.

The method of “healthy nonchalance”

To prioritize and allocate time for the major tasks, you should master the art of philosophical, calm attitude to any business. This art we call “healthy nonchalance” which is useful in any case.

The first question you should ask yourself receiving any task: Should I to do it at all?

After this question ask yourself: “Why am I to do it?”.

How to deal with people that transfer their tasks on their colleagues is not the issue of time management. But time management can give an important tool in this struggle: the objective facts and figures. Fix the tasks you perform writing and the time spent. Show these records to your supervisor, show which of the tasks performed are yours and which are of your colleagues. And most importantly, explain, why it is harmful. Remember, your personal comfort is of little interest for the head, what is really important is utility of your suggestions for achievement of personal goals of the head and the department.

“Buying” time

The next way to release time for your priorities is to “buy” someone’s time. You can not only “organize” and “save” time, but also “buy” it.

The only way to do it is to delegate tasks and “buy” people’s time.

With a large amount of tasks not relevant to your expertise and the value of your time, consider buying an external service – Secretary, Technical Assistant, etc. Naturally, you’ll have to justify the usefulness of such service for the company or department.

Remember that the head is not interested in making your life easier and giving you less work. But your task is to show him the company’s losses caused by the fact that you perform tasks, which are not related to your duties. You can count the value of your time on the basis of salary, the volume of orders and clients attracted by you, the amount of time you have to spend on clients etc.

Finally, think about delegating the household work, i.e. hiring a housekeeper (and increasing your income in the future – babysitter and driver). For $ 100-200 a month a housekeeper will come once a week for a full day to do all the housework and (if necessary) prepare meals. It’s easy to see that rather small amount of money will release 8×4 = 32 hours and a lot of nerves.

Delegation of tasks

If you have subordinates, the competent delegation of tasks is a key way to “buy” their time and to release your time for priority cases.

When delegating tasks materialize them. Here are some options of the materialization:

  1. Sending task via e-mail. Save copies in the “Daily monitoring” and “Weekly monitoring” folders and look them through with the appropriate frequency.
  2. Try to fix complex instructions on a digital recorder. Digital – because it would be easy to it to your subordinate via e-mail, and before proceeding to the problem he can listen to it and refresh all the details. And you can keep this record in a “Control” folder and look it through. The file name will remind you of this instruction. It’s also gives an opportunity to listen to the instructions in case of any misunderstandings with your subordinate.
  3. If you like paper documents – you can use the order cards. Make a form with standard margins: Who gives the order, to whom, when, Deadline, Content errands. The card is filled with a blueprint. The head may remain copies of the cards and order them by time, performers, projects etc. This cards can be regularly seen and thus keep all delegated tasks under control.

These are materialization reminders about the tasks that you have delegated to someone. Human memory is an unreliable tool, so the problem must be embodied in any tangible medium – paper, electronic documents, e-mail etc. The principle of materialization is even more important in work with colleagues and subordinates when the unreliability of memory is accompanied by the possibility of disputes, conflicts of interests etc. In all these cases, invaluable materialization will cause problems.

Priority criteria

We cleared time from less important issues with the help of art of saying “no”, “buying” time, delegating tasks. Now the most important thing: what tasks are the most important from those that remained?

Try to remember or write down in the diary the tasks that you performed yesterday. Highlight the tasks of the highest priority. Perhaps all the tasks will seem important for you.

But “priority” means “being the first” (prior means “the first” in Latin language). All the cases can not be equally important. If we call all the cases priority, the term “priority” itself lose its meaning.

The problem consists in the fact that different tasks are important from the standpoint of different criteria. For example, the important for the customer, for your personal development etc.

Let us deal with it using a method known in the system analysis as the multicriteria evaluation.

Multicriteria evaluation method is as follows:

  1. Identify the criteria by which we evaluate the options.
  2. Weigh criteria to determine their relative importance.
  3. Assess options for each criterion.
  4. Calculate the weighted evaluation of options to choose the optimum.

It is important to understand that priority itself doesn’t exist. Each of us has its own system of criteria. The concept of “better”, “worse” and “priority” does not exist on its own, but only in relation to a specific set of criteria.

Sometimes when making a decision, we need to take into account up to 20 parameters. But human brain can not keep more than 5-7 parameters simultaneously.

Thus, while intuitive decision-making and intuitive prioritization we take into account much less parameters and criteria than the situation deserves. Matrix of the criteria helps to make the selection process conscious, formalized, “transparent”, allowing to take into account more options than we are able to keep in mind simultaneously.

Priority of the current tasks

On what basis we define daily which task is at the first place, and which is at the second one? Each of us has the matrix of criteria, which depends on the profession, personality and many other parameters. There is no single correct criteria matrix.

Try to write down on your “strategic cardboard” the criteria by which you weigh the daily tasks. Having written it, you can check them every day making prioritization of the tasks not intuitive and systematize it.

In addition, you can share your decision-making system with your subordinates or colleagues to discuss exactly how you make decisions and why something must be changed.

Remember that there is no “correct” list of criteria for prioritizing tasks. Every company has its own specific criteria. Discuss them with colleagues and write them down clearly.

Spend 15 minutes to formalize the criteria on which you and your employees make decisions. This will save hours, weeks and months of work by a proper choice of direction every time the decision is taken.

Prioritization of the long-term goals

The most difficult question is the question of prioritization of the long-term goals. It’s impossible to work equally intensively over a dozen long-term goals simultaneously. We must choose, prioritize. It does not mean necessarily to abandon some goals forever. But determining what goals are priorities for you at the moment is very important.

The easiest way to weigh the long-term goals is to use as criteria 5-7 of your key values from your “Memoirs”. For example, you select 4 key values, weigh and discharge their key objectives for the near future.

Further evaluate each option for each criterion. You can use a simple three-point scale. One means that the option is practically not valuable from the viewpoint of the criterion. Two – the average value of the option. Three – substantial value of the option.

Next – calculate and evaluate options and determine the key goal at the moment.

After determining the relative priority of long-term goals, analyze your diary and determine approximately how many percent of time a week you spend on these objectives. It often turns out that spending time on a completely different goals do not coincide with their priority: the most significant goals receive the fewest amount of time.

The sixth step of creating personal TM system

Learn how to weed out superfluous imposed affairs and highlight key tasks using clear criteria – so always finding time for the most important things.

Summary of recommendations:

  • Expand your arsenal of “strategies of refusal”;
  • Encourage others to a say a firm “no”.
  • Use “healthy nonchalance”.
  • “Buy” time, replacing your personal professional work with the service.
  • Delegate tasks.
  • Formulate and use criteria for prioritization.
  • Weigh your long term goals and focus on the key ones.

Live to work or work to live. Part 7. Information: how to manage the creative chaos

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