Priority Management: A Complete Guide to Managing Priorities

Worker in front of laptop managing priorities

No one thinks: “Here’s a task that doesn’t matter at all. I’ll tackle it first!”

Your team members certainly have reasons for prioritizing their work the way they do. The tasks they work on seem valuable to them, even if they’re not your top priority.

So how can you achieve greater alignment of priorities in your team, where everyone has a shared vision of what matters most and works together toward common objectives? Effective priority management is the answer.

In this priorities management guide you will discover,

What is priority management?

Priorities management is the practice of focusing time and resources towards work, projects, and tasks that affect high-value projects, accounts, and long-term goals.

Priority management is an essential part of time management and project management, where project managers adjust resources, schedules, and tasks to deliver projects on time and within scope.

Why is priority management important?

Priorities management is an important technique because you don’t want to be fighting fires constantly in your team.

What are the differences between time and priorities management?

Time management is about planning your day and how long things will take to enable a productive day. It can involve time tracking to ensure tasks are not taking as long as they should and having control over your own time. What are you wasting time on? Are you working effectively with the time you have?
Priority management is organizing your day according to the tasks you have and working out which are the most important to the least important. You can then see what your day looks like in terms of time management and how you can effectively get the high-priority tasks done in the time you have.

Having good time and priority management is important during projects and for management in general. Being able to organize, prioritize and change priorities when needed is an effective tool that managers should try to help their teams with.

Tips for effective priorities management.

1. Understand top company objectives.

For effective priorities management, it’s essential to practice upward alignment before attempting downward alignment. You could manage the most unified, productive team on the planet, but if the goals they’re achieving aren’t furthering the objectives most valued by stakeholders, what will that get you?

You don’t want to be the team that speeds a dozen new products to market when the executive team is more interested in reinvesting in the flagship product.

If you aren’t clear about overall business goals, not to mention your boss’s objectives for you and your team, it could be a failing by upper management. But sitting back and waiting for clarity to float down from on high will hurt you more than it hurts them.

So speak up. Be bold. Proactively manage your boss until you have the tools and information you need to succeed.

2. Align team goals with company objectives.

Armed with clarity around the company’s intended destination, it’s time to get your team members all rowing in the same direction. According to one Harvard Business study, cited in a recent Workfront white paper, 95 percent of a company’s employees are unaware of or do not understand their company’s strategic plan.

To combat this staggering statistic on your team, start with clear and frequent communication, especially about top company objectives. Set team and individual goals that align with company goals, and make sure you’re measuring employees toward these objectives.

Next, address the unspoken assumptions about day-to-day prioritization.

We all come with our own personal biases about what matters most. Some will prioritize tasks based on who requested them—the higher the requestor on the org chart or more loudly they shout, the more important the project request.

Others depend more on when items are due—the earlier the due date, the more attention it gets. Still others will rely on their own pet why’s—if it aligns strongly with their personal passions and preferences, it will get done first.

Instead, train your team to consider project value first. Projects that will deliver high ROI to the enterprise rank highest in importance, no matter who assigned them or how urgent they may seem.

But who determines what’s valuable? That’s where secret number three comes in.

Learn more: How to problem solve with the 5 whys analysis

3. Standardize and score work requests.

Create standardized processes to initiate projects in the same format every time.

Work management software solutions have these capabilities built in, making sure employees aren’t wasting valuable time combing through emails, voicemails, sticky notes, and meeting minutes to figure out what’s expected of them. They’ll know they have one work queue to consult, where essential details are readily accessible.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) reports that organizations with successful work performance measures (on time, on budget, and goals met) are almost three times more likely than organizations with poor work performance to use standardized practices throughout the organization, and have better outcomes.

Standardized requests alone aren’t quite enough, though, if they don’t include some indication of importance, value, or priority. In new research findings from Business Improvements Architects, only 32 percent of respondents said they had a process for prioritizing projects. In the same study, 68 percent of organizations said they had no systematic approach in place to prioritize projects or link them to corporate and strategic goals.

What is the solution? You could implement a scorecard system that assigns strategic point values to all work, helping everyone easily determine which projects are essential and which are more flexible. Encourage an open dialogue as priorities shift and clash throughout the cycle of work.

4. Encourage the team to make time for important but not urgent work.

Steven Covey’s seven famous habits have now been in circulation for 27 years—an entire lifetime for many of today’s enterprise workers. But it never hurts to be reminded of tried-and-true principles.

Covey suggested dividing work into four quadrants:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important and Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

It’s easy to spend too much time hanging out in quadrant three (Not Important and Urgent), and without a scorecard system to help you define universal standards of “importance,” many of your team members will be.

After all, “urgent” is one quality that’s easy to identify, while other qualities can be more subjective. Make sure you design your priorities management system to keep your team in quadrants one and two most of the time, with extremely rare forays into quadrant four.

5. Make course corrections.

Once you’ve absorbed strategic company objectives, created a series of complementary goals for your own team, and figured out how to rank each incoming project in terms of value, your work has just begun. Now you need to make sure you have a good bird’s-eye view of what’s going on with your team, so you can offer feedback and adjust along the way.

If you follow an Agile project management approach, your weekly stand-up meeting is a great place to do this, but it doesn’t always require a meeting. Cloud-based work management solutions make it easy to offer feedback and course corrections minute by minute.

It’s important to speak up when you see team members working on unimportant, not urgent work ahead of high-value projects, but it’s arguably even more crucial to offer praise and positive reinforcement when you see:

Frequently asked questions.

How do you manage your priorities?

Managing priorities is all about clarity. Make to clearly align your goals to company objectives – these will help you keep things on track. Next, learn to standardize and score your work requests so you have formula for prioritization. Finally, get your team on board and get full oversight of the tasks within your project.

What is the importance of work priorities?

It’s important to set work priorities both in terms of individual tasks and overarching goals. They can help you work more efficiently, build teamwork and create a good work-life balance. Setting work priorities also helps you understand the bigger picture and stay calm under pressure.

What is an example of a work priority?

A work priority might include the successful completion of a project, or getting a better handle on your day-to-day objectives. Priorities management can help you manage both short and long-term tasks. Your manager should be able to help with these priorities.

Priorities management is an ongoing effort.

Like eating and organizing, priorities management is not one of those things you can do “once and for all.” It’s an ongoing effort that requires constant vigilance.

But you’ll find that practicing alignment in both directions, standardizing and scoring work requests, making time for important but not urgent work, and offering course corrections and positive feedback along the way is more than worth the effort.

After all, a boat full of people all rowing in the same direction will get much farther, much faster than if everyone is focused on different destinations. It’s your job to point them to the desired port, give them the tools they need, and then stay out of their way.