How to Set Priorities to Clear Roadblocks

Setting goals each day, in a simple list, can be a very effective way to regain  focus once the day starts moving. I’ve found that a simple list, that holds only the three most important things you need to get done that day, works really well.

(Note: When I originally wrote this post, I was thinking primarily about work-related tasks.  I now maintain two lists of no more than 3 items each, one for work tasks and one for personal tasks, using these same principles.)

As the day progresses and you finish a task and need to figure out what to do next, or get pulled off-course by an unexpected distraction, coming back to this simple list points you back in the right direction.

The key to making this list work is to put the three highest priority items for the day in that list. Do this early in the day and making it the first thing you do when you sit down at my computer, yes, even before checking email and social networks…can you imagine that’s even possible?!   This seemingly simple prioritization exercise takes a great deal of focus and a pretty intense level of mental energy. Doing it before the distractions of the day start coming fast and furious increases your chances of getting the priorities right for the day.

That’s not to say that the priorities can’t or shouldn’t be adjusted due to shifting priorities throughout the day. However, in my experience, the less that is necessary, the better.  Having to go through the exercise of thinking about reprioritizing the list when something seemingly urgent hits, can help you to take a step back and truly assess the urgency of the new request, rather than just jump to it in a knee-jerk reactive way.

In my case most of the time, the reassessment exercise demonstrates to me that reprioritization wasn’t necessary after all and helps me avoid getting pulled into a whirlwind of extraneous activity that prevents me from focusing on the 3 priorities I set out to accomplish that day.

Regarding the priority setting process, I’m starting to realize more and more that one factor gaining importance and weight as I determine the day’s priorities is removing roadblocks. A roadblock to me is something that I need to do that is preventing someone else from doing what they need to do, resulting in stalled progress. I feel an intense level of pressure that builds very quickly when I know that all I need to do is get one thing done, which will then allow someone or a group of people to continue doing what they need to do, in order to move closer toward achieving a goal.

This pressure, as simple as it sounds, feels like a dam holding back a torrent of water, so maybe it’s more like a logjam rather than roadblock, but anyway… 🙂 There’s something very powerful about freeing and enabling a group of well qualified people that you trust to help make progress toward goals collectively and knowing that things are getting done, even if you may not currently be pushing that activity forward yourself.

I guess people who have difficulty delegating may not feel the same way and that’s a topic for another post 🙂 I personally appreciate the style of manager who sees their job as removing roadblocks, enabling the people that work with them to be successful at doing what they’ve been asked to do. I know that at least for me, setting priorities by selecting the areas where I’m currently holding back the most progress, especially when the progress can be made by others once I clear that roadblock, seems to work pretty well.