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How to Prioritise between a rock and a hard place

Sometimes work can get real messy, can’t it? Especially when we have tons to do and time is  not on our side. Sometimes it can be too easy to fall into reactive mode, focusing on firefighting, defusing the incendiary bombs before they explode in our face.

Yesterday I was supporting a great guy with a big job, successfully winning but at an unacceptable, unsustainable personal price. It was when he said ‘Richard, right now I’m just too busy fighting the alligators to have time to clear the swamp’ that I had to very explicitly challenge his thinking – and his behaviours. I’m sharing here one of the shifts he found most useful …..

It is important to know that he was – of course – dealing with the longer term, bigger picture stuff (otherwise he wouldn’t have the job he has), its just that he was doing this mission critical, strategic stuff out of hours, usually when he was tired and feeling ‘guilty’ that he was not being fully present with his family. That’s doubly unsustainable and unsatisfying!

So, what is the paradigm he found so useful?

The best way to deal with the firefighting tactical stuff and the Future Creating strategic stuff when you have to cram both into a doable day is to ram them up tight against each other in your calendar. We simply have to be more deliberate in our thoughts and actions.

Embrace the rock and the hard place. Kill the middle ground. Deliberately cut out all the ‘Worthy work’ in the middle that contributes little to your results. Check your prioritised operational task list and your prioritised Strategy, Project and Goal lists. Defend time in your calendar for prioritised tasks, allowing appropriate recovery and team / customer access times.

Of course, all my other smarter priority and workload management principles and processes apply, but within this tight, temporary  framework.

The important thing here is that when you are extraordinarily caught in the vice of tactics and strategy, don’t default to full-time firefighting, delegating the future building work to out of hours.

Hope you find this useful when you are very specifically under the cosh.

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Richard Maybury June 16, 2015, 5:11 pm

    This answers a good question by Richard Anderson on LinkedIn….
    Question:
    Interesting article and quite tough to maintain at times Richard. Getting it right is a very hard balance :). If you have more to share on this it would make fascinating reading.

    My answer:
    I’d say it is very tough to maintain this deliberate calendar crunch for a prolonged period Richard Anderson. It is completely contrary to most people’s natural planning at work. It is very rigorous. It makes no allowance for the ‘nice to do’ stuff It means saying ‘No’ more often to far more opportunities and threats than most people feel comfortable saying ‘No’ to. The inherent ‘selfishness’ of this calendar crunch can, if practiced for a prolonged period, damage teamworking. For all these reasons, and more, this is a time limited solution. My usual approach to welding purpose to priorities within high volume, high velocity workloads will make managing tough stuff easier, this is for when you are feeling like the poor guy in the picture.

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