Setting priorities. That’s something many entrepreneurs struggle with. In fact, entrepreneurs are sometimes likened to crows who get distracted by every new shiny thing that comes along. Unfortunately, this creates confusion as employees try to keep up with ever-shifting priorities. In other cases, instead of setting priorities vertically with the most important at the top and the least important at the bottom, some entrepreneurs set them horizontally so that everything has equal importance. Or said another way, these entrepreneurs are deep into instant gratification . . . everything becomes a “top priority.” This also causes a lot of confusion as employees try to figure which “top priority” to attack first. So what’s a priority-challenged entrepreneur to do? For some thoughts on this, please continue reading below.
“Prioritizing causes us to do things that are, at the least, uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful.” ~ John Maxwell, author and speaker
Prioritizing is hard work. It forces us to choose what’s most important among many important things, to decide which of these very important things will have the greatest impact on getting us where we want to go. Worse, according to John Maxwell, if we’re honest about it, some of the things that should be among our top priorities are things that may be a bit scary . . . things that will take us way outside of our comfort zone.
John Maxwell recommends a few things that may make prioritizing easier . . . although not necessarily more comfortable.
First, he says, ask yourself, “What must I do that nobody can or should do for me?” If you’re doing something that is not necessary, you should eliminate it. He further advises that if you’re doing something that is necessary, but could be competently done by someone further down on the food chain, you should delegate it. You might ask, “Why would I be doing something that isn’t necessary or something that someone else could do?” Several reasons.
- You’ve always done this activity.
- You enjoy doing this activity.
- You can use this activity to hide from other activities that you really don’t want to do.
The idea here is to remove from your plate those things that are either unnecessary or that could be done by someone else. Although you still have to prioritize the remaining stuff on your plate, at least the list is now a little smaller.
Second, your top priorities should be a reflection of your unique gifts and talents. In his book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” researcher and author Marcus Buckingham makes a powerful argument against wasting time pursuing activities for which you have no natural strength or ability. He suggests shedding such activities in favor of those that truly are a good fit for your talents. Done correctly, you get a double bump out of this.
- You get rid of activities that aren’t a good fit for you, and you put them in the hands of someone who has the right talents and abilities to handle them efficiently and effectively.
- You free up your own time to address priorities for which your strengths and abilities create the most leverage and do the most to propel the company toward its goals.
Third, as you ponder your priorities, consider Pareto’s Law that advises you to focus your attention on areas of the business where you can achieve 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your efforts. That’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Our natural instinct is to work on those areas of the business that aren’t performing well, but Pareto’s Law suggests instead that we identify the people and processes in our business that are responsible for the majority of our success, and work with them to make them even better. In practice, that means if you want to reinforce your sales effort, you should spend the bulk of your available time with the 20 percent of your sales force that produce 80 percent of your sales.
John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA, was a master at setting priorities. In his 40 seasons of coaching at UCLA, his only losing season was his first, yet his priorities did not include winning basketball games. He led his team to four undefeated seasons and a record ten NCAA championships, yet winning championships was not one of his priorities. His priorities were entirely about getting the most from his players, getting them to play to their potential, and putting the best possible team on the court. The winning seasons and the championships were byproducts of those priorities, but not the priorities themselves.
Strong leaders like John Wooden recognize the value of prioritizing. They see it as an effective and efficient way to get the most out of the resources available to them. Successful leaders in all walks of life . . . business people, coaches, pastors, lawyers, soldiers . . . all owe their success to establishing, and keeping their organization focused on, a clear set of priorities. Be that kind of leader.
Be like John Wooden.