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Introduction to the science of prioritization

What to do first; this is the question!

There are only 24 hours a day. Time is money and you can not value things equally. Something brings you more value, other things are urgent while something else should be done sooner or later. How to set priorities and know that these priorities are the right ones before you start executing on them? This is the question we will answer in this article.

Growing a business, doing a project or just living life, needs you to prioritize what to do and have faith that you are doing the right thing. Prioritization is sometimes dictated by the situation based on urgency and importance. If there is a fire, you need to fight that before you look for the root cause. Anyway, you must not forget about the root cause. You need to fix it. Not all fires need to be fought neither, right? From time to time it is also right to let the fire burn out and die while we are targeting our resources and time on other tasks. Experience makes you judge the situation correctly and decide on when to fix and when to let go.

Here is my overarching framework for making priorities:

1- Focus on the bigger picture (topics not tasks) while prioritizing and evaluating and on tasks while executing

The devil is always in the details. If we focus on details, we may get stuck and never move on. First step toward correct prioritization is to decide what Topics you want get implemented based on three factors:

  • Importance: Not everything we do have the same importance. We also need to do unimportant things from time to time. We have just to be aware of the importance of what we chose to do
  • Urgency: These are things that can harm us if we postpone or do not do at all
  • Growth potential: Things that can bring us one or more steps toward our goals should get more focus.

It is very natural that we give highest priority to a topic that contributes well to our growth, is an important matter to implement and needs to be done sooner than later.

2- Decide on a range of satisfaction for each topic, accept results within that range and move on to next topic.

Trying to do everything 100% perfect all the time is wasting resources and to be honest also impossible. Many professionals and companies cause a lot of harm to their business by trying to be perfect. Each result we are looking for should be defined as a range with lower, upper and acceptable limits. We should head toward the acceptable limits, but can sometimes be satisfied with the lower limits in case of time or resource limitations. This is not the same as producing mediocre results, but good enough without doing things that are not adding value, gold platting.

3- Give the harder things higher priorities than easier things. You reduce procrastination and increase the energy level in what you do

Mission critical things are usually hard. These must not be standing on your waiting list while you are only doing things you enjoy and are easy to achieve. Try to break down harder tasks into doables, make sure you are focused on them and make them happen before you go over to easier tasks.

4- Fix bugs, but admit also that you need to rethink the whole solution if number of bugs and issues is so huge(change the boat instead of plugging it)

Trying to fix a leaking boat may be wise, but may also be the wrong thing to focus on. Judge the Topic and its nature! If you do not believe it is possible to fix within acceptable cost, let it die and establish a replacement!

An example from the software industry may be trying to fix a buggy application. After some years of development by various software developers applications have tendency to contain a lot of bugs. You fix somewhere and discover new bugs somewhere else. Like boats that are leaking all the time. In such cases it is better to save your resources and focus on creating a replacement.

To summarize things, you need to collect a list of “to dos”, decide on their importance, urgency, efforts needed in sense of time and hardness, expected results and quality. If you manage to quantify these measures you can easily set your priorities. Of course the more you exercise with priorities the better goal achiever you become.

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