The main thing about prioritizing
Stephen Covey told us, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
But what if you have lots of things you need to get done in the next day, week, or month?
This is the dilemma that faced the Inclusion team at our last quarterly priority-setting session. We were going through the hard work of figuring out what our most important priorities were. The challenge was that the top three programming priorities were all similarly important.
We discussed two solutions:
- Declare all three priorities as equal and spread our efforts evenly among them.
- Set one of the priorities as our main priority and focus on getting it done, then move on to the next and so on.
Ultimately, we went with the latter route. Why did we go this way?
The human mind is biased towards choosing tasks that provide reward in the near term over those that produce longer-term rewards. The more we can tie current actions to near-term results, the more focused on the tasks we become. This is the reason why we choose a movie over studying for that test in two weeks. The movie is satisfying now; the studying can wait until later. Most people agree that getting something done is satisfying and that it feels good to check something off their to-do list sooner rather than later.
If we have three priorities of similar importance and without firm deadlines, research points to the fact that other distractions will be more likely to sneak in than if we focus on one of those priorities at a time. It will take longer – much longer, in fact – to complete the three tasks if you work on them concurrently as opposed to consecutively.
Making one of your team’s priorities the “main thing” and focusing on it until it is done, is a proven idea that great leaders like you adopt.
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