Know which tasks are Tier #1

Need to get more done?
Set priorities & stick to them.
At Fortune Magazine’s recent “Most Powerful Women” dinner, Marissa Mayer, new Yahoo CEO, made news when describing how she juggles the demands of her big job and her new-born baby.

Mayer was asked, “What’s the most important thing that you do to get it all done?” She answered that you have to “ruthlessly prioritize.” Citing legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, she said that her priorities are God, Family and Yahoo, in that order.

“Ruthlessly prioritize” is a great mantra for busy professionals. It is tempting to just react to whatever seems most pressing as the day goes along, but that can be a trap. Your most important goals and values may be overlooked because at any given moment they feel less urgent than other people’s demands for action or attention.

When you don’t have enough time or energy to go around, you should think carefully about how you are going to spend these vital resources. Time and energy should be treasured, and budgeted at least as carefully as your dollars.

If you’re not confident of your strategy for getting it all done, it’s time to devote a few minutes to thinking about your priorities. And if you’re ready to “ruthlessly prioritize,” consider these tips:

  • Remember the big picture. A good foundation for setting your priorities is a statement about what matters most in your life. Your vision doesn’t have to be as succinct as Mayer’s list of “God, Family and Yahoo,” but keep it brief and keep it handy, so you can read it quickly and frequently. Some people start each New Year by rewriting their brief list or description of key values and goals.

  • Try the “List of 3.” A handy technique is to start each morning with a list of 3 tasks that must be done by day’s end. These are the items that are so useful or important that their completion may make the day a success, no matter what else happens. It helps to write the list on a sticky note, white board, or somewhere else where you’ll see it frequently.

  • Prioritize work categories. The items on your lengthy “to do” list aren’t equally important. You need to be clear about your most important objectives, and to know which tasks will help you to meet them. One of my clients decided that she would prioritize her projects into these four categories:
    • Tier One: Important to her bosses, their goals and their success.
    • Tier Two: Important to the goals and success of her direct reports.
    • Tier Three: Related to her routine management responsibilities, like human resource and budget matters

    • Tier X:  Stuff that probably should be done by other people.

  • Schedule time for “Tier One.” Make an appointment with yourself and block out time on your calendar for your List of 3 and other Tier One tasks. For many people the best time of day for this is in the morning, when they may feel more productive.

  • Batch the little things. Small tasks like answering routine email and phone messages may constantly interrupt your day, making it hard to concentrate on bigger projects. A good practice is to collect of bunch of smaller items and set aside an hour or so to race through as many tasks as you can. It’s most efficient if you batch similar items, like phone calls, scheduling or filing.
  • First, eat the frog. It’s tempting to procrastinate about tasks that are tedious or intimidating. But having them hanging over your head can drain energy and waste time in the long run. In his book “Eat That Frog!” Brian Tracy suggests you imagine that each day you must eat a frog before you go home. If you put it off that meal until five o’clock, your day will be ruined by the lurking thought of what you must eat. But if you eat the frog first thing in the morning, you’ll start your day with a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that it can only get better. To “eat the frog,” start the day by tackling the hardest, least appealing task on your list. If time is short, take at least take a little bite and do one thing that will move you closer to completion.
  • Say “no.” Some tasks just aren’t worth doing. Delegate where you can. And be realistic about the odds of completing some low priority “to do” items. Some projects would be nice to accomplish, but they aren’t important enough to stay on your list.
Want to address professional challenges or transitions in 2013? Bev and her colleagues are available to provide coaching and create training sessions, workshops and retreats. Talk to Bev if you’re curious about the benefits of coaching, or interested tackling group issues. Meanwhile, check out Bev’s website at

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Bev, a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice.

Posted in business etiquette, leadership, priorities, productivity, professional growth, workplace issues Tagged with: ,

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