Tell me if this resonates with you. You wake up in the morning and have a good enough plan for the day but then a crisis hits. It may not even be your crisis but you have to solve it. There are incoming emails that seem to never end and emergency conference calls that appear on your calendar. And . . . you have to answer them all or at least it feels like it at the time . . . Maybe you’re the only one who can or is willing to. Is it your responsibility to solve these problems or are you just covering for someone else? When this happens I feel scattered and confused and it really messes up my whole day. Switching tasks too rapidly or trying to react to requests immediately causes this feeling. Reacting to conflicting priorities without organizing, prioritizing, and planning causes confusion. How can you stay on track when you have conflicting priorities?
Additionally, have you ever been invited to a meeting and when it is finished you say to yourself that it was a waste of time. What is worse is that these are meetings that may be scheduled on a daily or weekly basis. When people show up to a meeting they ask ‘What are we talking about today?’. This aimlessness means that time in the meeting is spent planning and prioritizing instead of making progress. Sometimes the prioritization step never happens and the team just reacts to the squeakiest wheel.
When I feel disorganized and scattered in my personal life I notice in the moment I don’t quite know why I feel this way. When I stop everything and reorganize my to do list there are a lot of tasks (some of which are unimportant or low priority). Some may have been important tasks that I intended to do daily that haven’t really been completed recently because I’ve allowed distractions to throw me off my routine for too many days. When this happens I feel confused and I don’t know exactly what must be done at what time. This confusion and frustration can lead to further stagnation.
Let’s work towards solving the problem of conflicting priorities . . .
There are two situations where conflicting priorities must be managed:
Although you can never manage conflicting priorities for groups of people before you can do it for yourself there are slightly different approaches to each.
- Individual Conflicting Priorities in a Day
- Define and refine a vision and mission statement of how you impact the world
- Set Long Term Goals
- Improves at least one other person than just yourself
- Supports your overall vision and mission
- Brainstorm tasks that get you to your goals
- Write these tasks procedurally where at least at a high level gets you from your current state to your long term goals. Although you may not have the perfect roadmap today you should have at least a written plan to somewhere. If you don’t define this then someone will define it for you or worse you will just stay in place. As you progress down your path all you need to do is just listen to your own thoughts and feedback from others. If you do this you will eventually find the path that gets you there.
- Start with daily target metrics that you believe are achievable and refine those targets as you progress
- At first just start with targets that you can do daily. If you incrementally increase these metrics at a comfortable rate then you will eventually get to the point where you are making steady progress. If you try to do more activity than you are used to and try to go from 0 to 100 in one day then you will have consistency for only one to a few days with long periods of inactivity.
- Schedule tasks on the calendar for each day
- Allocate a specific and consistent time in the day to do work on tasks to your long term goals, think retrospectively about what went well and what you would like to improve, and refine your action plan. This is also where you run into conflicting priorities that distract you and take you off the path to your long term goals. The best time to work on your most important goals is first thing in the morning and be sure to not schedule anything over it (assuming you want to achieve your goals).
- Automate or hire people for repetitive work that doesn’t progress you towards your long term goals
- Once you start making enough money hire someone to clean and organize your house and cook your meals.
- If you don’t have the capability to hire someone then invest in tools that will speed up these processes
- If you can’t invest in tools then execute those tasks in batch that will support you for a longer term. For example, on a weekend cook a lot of food that you can eat throughout the week or month; an effort that will save you time to cook meals.
- Remove distractions such as emails, social media updates, app updates, text messages, and spam phone calls that distract you from deep work
- Ideally put someone in place that will manage issues that require reactive action
- Coach resources so they can think and make good decisions independently. The goal here is to not bottleneck progress on your approval and direction. Coaching means asking questions to get a team member to realize the path to satisfying an objective within themselves. Coaching works the best when you already know a path to the end goal. However, if you approach the discussion from an exploratory point of view then you are more likely to decentralize decision making and not get stuck in solving problems that you are intending to delegate.
- Take care of your physical and mental health
- This is similar to the last point around eliminating distractions. A good example is not getting enough sleep. Feeling tired through out your day means that you steadily make less progress day over day. Additionally, this is almost more of a time management issue. If you don’t get enough sleep in the evening eventually you will need to nap. If this happens then you get thrown out of your routine and when that happens then you are likely to at least lose a day of progress. That said, it is likely more than just a day and when that happens it is difficult to get back on track; a result that means it is more unlikely to satisfy your long term goal.
- Limit TV, video games, and social media that suck you in or outrage you
- If you want to achieve a long term goal then avoid any activities that distract you for a long period of time. Sometimes disconnecting and doing something different can allow your mind to come up with new ideas. However, if you spend most of your day arguing with people about political issues on Twitter, looking at dancing videos on TikTok, or playing online Battle Royale or Role Playing Games then you will be unlikely to have the energy and focus to achieve your long term goals. It is really that simple. If you don’t plan for and take the time to work towards your goals you’ll never get there.
- Limit time with negative people or who take you off of your goals
- Thinking negatively is really a productivity killer because you stop taking action to make progress because you feel it isn’t effective and pointless. When I think negatively about a long term goal I notice that I just stop working on it; a thought process that is really irrational. The reality that I’ve experienced is that even marginal daily consistency will at least put you on a path to your goals. The only way you get there is to just get and keep going. It is almost better to focus on the activity rather than obsess about the results. When you spend a lot of time with negative people than it is easier to slip into this sort of pessimistic thinking and stop working.
- Most of the time this happens when I’ve made some progress then I for whatever reason lose the ground that I’ve gained. So, the easy answer to this is to put measures in that mitigate risk but even if this happens just start over and lay the foundation. Think positively but do something about problems that arise.
2. Manage Group Conflicting Priorities
- Learn to manage conflicting priorities by following the steps above.
- Prepare for meetings and send out a meeting agenda at least a day before.
- De-escalate anxiety.
- De-escalate the anxiety level of everyone involved (most importantly yourself). Once you are calm then you can help everyone else too. Speaking slowly, speaking in an even tone, and documenting discussions to organize will help to get everyone to calm down. Facilitate communication and focus the team towards a common goal.
- Define a concrete common goal, state it verbally, and then write it down.
- Redirect discussions to focus on topics that progress towards the common goal.
- After each meeting send an email out the agreements and decisions made to the team members. This will make it more difficult for team members to deviate from the agreed upon path.
- Document progress and recap the conversations for the team.