How to prioritise your work

We all have a need to make sure we are working on the most important thing, the thing that needs our attention and focus the most. Given that all of us will have more than one thing that needs to get done, you need to prioritise.

But how?

Ivan Walsh recently posted his thoughts on this topic but he doesn’t cover the process that comes before the daily decision making of “what shall I do today?”.

Presuming that you don’t lurch from day to day and that you have a plan, or at least a list of things that you need to deliver, how do you go about setting the priority?

Some people will be lucky to have a direct customer who knows exactly what they want, you can work with them around any constraints of time and budget (resource) to prioritise the work that needs done.

But what if you have two customers, or three, or seven?

Well that’s close to the situation I’m in and my solution is quite simple.

Let them decide.

A few months back I started to jot down, in a spreadsheet, everything that my team COULD do. It includes some items like scouring our Wiki for any useful information that we can use, as well as “hey you know what would be really great..” requests we get which aren’t urgent but which I didn’t want to lose.

I soon realised I might as well track every information request there and very soon after that I realised that I needed a way to sort the list and make sure we were working on the right thing, at the right time.

Given that many items on that list were ‘put’ there by other people, I realised that if we estimated (very roughly) how much effort each would take, we would be able to bargain with people and, ultimately if two requests are in conflict then, hey, I can get the people who requested them to discuss the reasons and let them decide.

So we now have a big list of work items, each estimated, each prioritised (we are using MoSCoW) and which I can use to drive discussions when the next “must have, immediately” request lands in my inbox.

Ultimately, our customers decide what we work on and as I can give them a full picture of what, and why, it’s much easier for them to understand those times when they don’t get what they want. Having that information to hand makes the act of getting real priorities much easier.

My response, via Twitter, to Ivan’s post was this: “I tend to let other people set the priorities for my work. That way they all have (to have) a view of it.”

How do you set your priorities?

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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Hi Gordon,

Like most of us I’m under the whip to produce things every, so I find lists helpful, but only up to a point.

What I’ve started to do recently – and it seems to be working – is spending 15 min every night checking where I wasted time and where I was more productive.

Trends begin to emerge and I try to iron things (circular emails can be a big time-waster) and also see where I’ve made little quick wins. Then I fine tune my weekly plan for the next day…

The next morning I have a quick mtg with myself (I know!) and create a little plan of attack.

I list what I plan to do AND prepare contingencies in case others try to distract me,

“Ivan, I forgot to tell you about this meeting – can you pop in?”

“Does the PM know about this? She’s expected my status report at 4?”

What’s important to me managing conflicting situations? e.g. when others try to pull you in 4 directions at the same time – and all are kinda justified — but making sure that I don’t take the hit if my deadlines get missed because of their lack of planning.

Kind of ‘Tai Chi Productivity’.


Hmmm… either it’s Museum of Soviet Calculators on the Web:

or it’s “Must haves, Should haves, Could haves, Won’t haves”:

I’m going to take a wild guess and go with the second one.

(This may look like I’m making a point about defining abbreviations, but really I thought it was cool that they had those Soviet calculators online… )

[…] things, and for that you’ll need to get some of the interested parties together to help. I’ve already covered how I do that but to make that process a bit slicker (it’s very ad-hoc at the moment) I’ll be setting […]

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