As part of the HR organization in a knowledge-based industry, the complexities and the volume of work throws up unique challenges and situations. Because our manpower is the primary driver of our business, every interaction with our workforce is critical in ensuring business results and collective success. In such an environment, the key to planning and managing one’s workload effectively is the ability to prioritise tasks and manage time effectively.
My mantra is to filter my current priorities and anticipated tasks into a bucket that I call ‘Urgent & Important’. This is the bucket into which I put in a major chunk of my energy and time. Important activities have an outcome that leads to achievement of defined goals. Urgent activities demand immediate attention and have business or people criticality or sensitivity associated with them.
To manage time and work more effectively, Steven R Covey’s Time management matrix is a best thing to use:
- Quadrant I: All activities which are both important and urgent, like crisis, deadlines, and emergencies. These tasks should be tackled immediately
- Quadrant II: Activities which are important but not urgent, such as self- development, learning etc. These tasks should be planned with due diligence to action dates.
- Quadrant III: Urgent but not important activities such as certain meetings, most phone calls, interruptions and so on. These tasks may not be very relevant to our values or goals but must be tackled when they arise.
- Quadrant IV: Activities which are not urgent and not important. They are tasks that make you deviate from your goals. These tasks should be removed from your list of tasks.
This Urgent/Important Principle helps you quickly to identify the activities that you should focus on, and the ones you should ignore.
When you use this tool to prioritize your time, you can deal with truly urgent issues as you work towards important, longer-term goals.
Importance of Prioritization — It’s important for leaders to continue to enrol its people on larger picture. If people are not aware of the impact that their tasks have on business results, they will never be able to prioritize. Having a sense and clarity about the ultimate goal is crucial and critical for task prioritization. This also helps leaders focus on those priorities which require immediate attention and action and has potential impact on organisation success.
Similarly, prioritization is important with respect to delegation in teams. Often, leaders struggle with something very important which they could not prioritize but it could have been managed effectively if the work was delegated to someone else. One of the best ways to practice smart leadership is to delegate tasks to your team so you can focus your energy on the responsibilities that are specifically yours. At the same time, it's important to plan and prioritize the work so that your team can operate as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
While delegating tasks it is crucial to ensure that you have competent people on your team. It is also important to allocate work in ways that empower others to do their best and play to their strengths.
Honing Prioritization Skills - As a HR team lead, I like to encourage and motivate my team to continue to enhance their learning curve by way of investing their time in education and something more than just work. I keep challenging them as they try to move to the next rung of the ladder. In one such instance, a team member posed this question to me. It should resonate with a lot of us.
“I want to write articles, I want to volunteer for CRY, I want to join HR courses, I want to attend sessions on HR but at the end of the day I never have enough energy and time to get to the things that I dream about. Every night when I go to bed I think Tomorrow it will be the day I will start fresh.. But it never happens.” My simple answer to her and to everybody is, “If you chose to live your dreams, you will find enough time during the day to pursue it”. The first choice in the process is to continue to think or start taking actions. Taking actions help.
Stephen Pressfield said it best when he said - “I'm keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what's important first.”
Let me crack this whole thing wide open for you.
- Make a work list: Pen down every possible thing you can do in a day.
- Categorize urgent vs. important: Now the next step would be to see if you have any tasks that need immediate attention. Any work that, if not completed by the end of the day or in the next several hours, will have serious negative impact on business and people. Filter such tasks and bucket them as Urgent and Important and focus on their closure!
- Evaluate value/importance: Analyze your important work and identify tasks that provide highest value to your business and organization. Another way to gauge the number of people affected by your action. In general, the more people involved or impacted, the higher the stake.
- Set the order by estimated effort: Instead of waiting for 11th hour to arrive, break tasks into smaller units. Determine the effort and time to be invested in each activity. Also prepare a RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consulting, and Informing) project model to track the progress of your tasks.
- Be compliant and flexible: While working as per these rules remains cognizant of the fact that change is certain; unexpected tasks will force you to reprioritize. Be ready for that. Remain focused, complete the work in hand or the tasks you’re committed to doing right now.
- Cut the Cord: Since you have noted everything you wish to do, you probably can’t get to everything on your list. Once you prioritize tasks and estimate the time and effort, cut the remaining tasks from your list, and focus on the priorities that you know you must and can complete for the day. Then take a deep breath, dive in and be ready for anything!
Spending too much time on one priority, however, prevents you from getting other stuff knocked off your list. Acknowledge when you’re doing this and enforce strict deadlines to prevent yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Remaining tasks which you have cut can be managed by some other people in your team; leverage effective delegation.
Pareto principle (80/20 rule) in context of prioritization of workload -Pareto Analysis uses the Pareto Principle – also known as the "80/20 Rule" – which is the idea that 20 percent of causes generate 80 percent of results. The Pareto principle is extremely helpful in bringing swift and easy clarity to complex situations and problems, especially when deciding where to focus effort and resources.
As a leader, in order to identify, measure and manage the top processes, focus efforts on the most frequently used work streams. For instance, to enhance engagement within the organization, we can easily identify and focus on the key enablers of engagement (20%) instead of the entire Employee Value Proposition which will help in attaining maximum engagement (80%).
Similarly during the day we may have to respond or manage multiple complex and important tasks but it is given that not more than 20% of them will have significant business and people impact.