What is the difference between the PR professional who projects a frenzied demeanor as s/he scurries from task to task and the one who appears tranquil and in-control of his/her workflow? Certainly not their workload, which is the same – intense. Having been both “persons” at various times and having observed others’ workplace behaviors, I believe the difference has to do with priority management.
Priority management skills are different than time management skills, which many people have. When you can plan the day’s activities, you know how much time to allot to each task. But what do you do when a client calls with a problem or request, and suddenly several important tasks are competing for attention? When a crisis happens, you must decide what your priority will be during the limited time you have.
Below are a few key strategies that have helped me develop priority management skills and improve my ability to put out “fires” when a crisis hits.
- Whatever has the most urgent deadline generally takes priority, but if you aren’t completely sure, ask for clarification from your supervisor.
- Inform your coworkers and/or supervisor about what you are doing. Transparency enables you and your coworkers to resolve the issue much more quickly and efficiently, because you won’t end up doing work someone else has already done or vice versa.
- Delegate. It’s not a sign of failure to give some tasks to someone else, because the project is not about you. Working on a team calls for team members to support each other as each strives to achieve a common goal.
Longer-term priority management is as important as crisis priority management and can prevent future fires. Take a look at the diagram below, which is often presented in time/priority management workshops. Steven Covey also discusses this square in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
The “important and urgent” square includes emergencies, deadlines and/or time-sensitive tasks – the “fires” that sometimes seem to dominate the workplace. The “important but not urgent” square includes tasks such as relationships, exercise, planning and working towards personal and professional goals. When you operate from this square, you tend to be less stressed, more creative and more productive. A few weeks ago ProActive’s Patricia Kakridas wrote a great blog post about setting boundaries, which provides guidance on how to consistently prioritize items in the second square.
You may not be able to resolve every issue that demands your attention each day, but you can decide what the most important issues are and resolve those. As you practice priority management, you will be able to take steps towards handling your workload with less stress and greater productivity.