I had a weird dream the other night. I was sitting in a courtroom, in the defendant’s chair. The judge walked in and the bailiff said “All rise,” and then the judge pointed at me and said: “You stand here accused of Violent Prioritization. How do you plead?”
I started to answer, but another voice drowned me out. “You cannot convict him because prioritization is not a crime. In fact, you should reward him!” The speaker looked a lot like me, but sounded like James Earl Jones.
The prosecutor then spoke. He looked a lot like James Earl Jones, but sounded like Bob Dylan. “It is not the prioritization which offends the state. It’s the sheer violence with which it was applied.”
The judge said “What do we do then, convict him or reward him?” The spectators yelled out “Convict!” and “Reward!” in just about equal numbers. Then Dylan started singing “Last Train To Clarksville.”
What, you don’t have dreams like that?
OK, it’s a fact of life that there’s not enough time in the day to do all the things you could be and should be doing. It is also a fact that the busier you are, the more important time management becomes. If you have 20 things on your plate and there’s only enough time to do 10 of them, you have to prioritize aggressively. If you have 50 things on that same plate, you have to prioritize violently, and I don’t think most people prioritize violently enough.
Here’s a WWYD exercise. It’s 3:00 PM on a Wednesday. Your plan for the day calls for you to go into your office and close the door and make follow-up calls on 10 customers whose bikes you repaired the previous week. You close the door, but before you’re in your chair, it opens and one of your employees sticks his head in. “I’m glad I caught you before you started something,” he says. “The recycling guy is here, and I know you wanted to talk to him about that credit they owe us.”
OK, maybe that’s a bad example. You already know that ensuring customer satisfaction is more important than talking with the recycling guy just because he happens to be there at that particular time, right? Even without my input, you’d have said: “Tell him to wait. I might be 20 minutes making some calls, but I do want to talk to him. If he can’t wait, tell him to call me first thing tomorrow morning.”
How about this one. Your employee says: “I need you to look at the gearbox we’re rebuilding for (a very important customer).” Again, maybe a bad example. You already know that making sure something is done right for a very important customer should take priority over just about anything else, right? Even without my input, you’d do due diligence to that situation—but hopefully, you’d do it as quickly as possible and then get back to your planned activity!
Here’s a third scenario. This time, you’re going into your office at 3:00 PM to put together a quote. It’s a big order requiring a fast turnaround, and you promised to have the quote done by 4:00 PM. At 3:30, you’re about halfway through the task, and another employee sticks her head in the door. “I have (a less important customer) on the line and he wants to bring his bike in for a tune-up, but he wants to talk to you first.” I hope you would say: “Tell him I can call him a little later on.”
But what if your employee shakes her head and says: “I already told him that you were tied up. He said you either talk to him now, or he’ll go someplace else.”
Let’s set aside that you might be angered by his attitude. This sort of priority decision needs to be made on the basis of fact, not emotion. I think the fact in this situation is that someone’s going to be unhappy with you. The opportunity in this situation is that you get to decide who that will be!
Please think about some of the time management decisions you made today. Did you consider your overall priorities before you made your decision? Did you let something minor that came up distract you from something important that you had planned. Did you have any sort of a plan for the day in the first place? Did you put any limits on any of your activities: “I can spend 15 minutes on this and no more!”
If your answer to those questions was no, yes, no and no, you’re unlikely to be convicted of violent prioritization. Unfortunately, you’re also unlikely to be rewarded for truly effective and efficient use of your time. Remember that time is money, and the less time you have, the more money it’s worth—basic supply and demand, right?
Here’s a final thought for today. The exact opposite of violent prioritization might be trying to keep all the balls in the air. Remember what happens when you get just one ball too many up there! It’s better to accept that you probably can’t please everybody, and then make good decisions on who to disappoint.
Dave Fellman is theauthor of 3 books and more than 300 published articles on sales, marketing and management topics. He's a popular speaker who has delivered keynotes and seminars at hundreds of events across the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.
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