Competing priorities

Managers and their employees alike have long heard they should pay attention to the important things, not the urgent ones. It’s good advice, except for one thing: Most of us are overworked.

We rush around putting out fires all day, trying to schedule time for our goals and targets but eventually losing track of them as we deal with what appear to be urgent business issues. The real issue, however, is how to get more of the important things done. When everything piles up and the total of both urgent and important things become overwhelming, it is too easy to work on the urgent and not plan the important. It’s not so much that the urgent things pile up but that everything does.

I’ve seen this with my own management team. I’ve seen it in myself. All of us are human, and if the work pile gets big enough, we freeze, overwhelmed by the size of it. If it looks like the important things are so big they would take hundreds of hours to deal with, you will never find time to do them, focusing instead on the urgent things that might take only an hour or two to resolve. The trick is to make the important things manageable enough that you can continue forward progress, even though urgent things continue to surface.

Breaking it down

Part of the challenge is that it’s hard to see it for yourself when you’re stuck in the middle of this all-too-common situation. You need someone to help take you out of it. That’s my job. Though I have my own pile of stuff to deal with, I feel it’s important to spend time individually with team members, letting them talk about everything that’s on their plate, what’s not getting done and what they’re trying to accomplish. I help them realize that they can’t fix everything at once because they’ll never have enough time. We analyze their microcosm of problems and figure out how to break down the work pile into manageable pieces, then decide together which ones should be tackled first.

Quick wins

It almost doesn’t matter which one you pick, as long as it’s something manageable. Choose one that’s relevant but bite-sized, eliminate it, and move on to the next. As you go, the anxiety dissipates because things are finally getting done. Success here is about gaining focus; it’s about isolating problems and separating them from all the other stuff that’s getting in the way so that we can better resolve them.

Remove the roadblocks

As CEO, it’s my responsibility to ensure that my management team is as efficient and effective as possible. To me that means removing roadblocks, especially the ones that are self-inflicted. It’s only then that everyone will be able to tackle the important and urgent alike and ensure that the business is headed in the right direction. For me, that’s the ultimate goal.

Eric Doubell is CEO of Razorleaf. His duties include managing client and vendor relationships, strategic planning, contracts and negotiation, and administration and management. With more than 25 years of experience, Eric has worked as a software developer and engineer, an independent consultant, DBA, MIS manager, business systems manager and as a consulting manager in the medical, security, manufacturing, financial, legal, and consulting industries. Eric holds degrees in Economics and Computer Science from Denison University and Finance and Computer Management Masters in Business Administration from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Business.