I get a ton of questions about how I prioritize new tasks, projects and to-dos against an ever-increasing workload. In our work for entrepreneurs, a steady flow of inbound ideas and new initiatives is inevitable. How do you evaluate these new distractions and compare them to last week's urgent projects? I go through the following process. Just remember the acronym SURE.[rebel] (Want a PDF version of this image? Right-click here.)
For me, the first step to prioritization is getting a timeline. Something that I have to turn around in the next 10 minutes shoots straight to the top of the list, whereas something that takes place next week can wait. Sometimes your entrepreneur will specifically mention a due date. Other times, you'll have to tease one out:
- "No problem. When do you need this?"
- "Okay. When's the best time for me to follow up with you on this?"
A timeline isn't always enough to help me prioritize. We live in a world where we're juggling multiple projects and the due date for them all is "immediately, if not sooner." Accordingly, it's essential that we manage expectations and ensure nothing falls through the cracks. In these cases, I'll reflect, using current "urgent" projects to rank and classify this new project:
- "No problem. I'm currently updating the budget for Friday's meeting. Do you need this before then, or should I start as soon as the budget's finished?"
- "Okay. I've got meetings this afternoon for our event. Should I reschedule them so I can do this for you now?"
Will you incur any expenses in doing this task? If so, what's the budget? Will you need support from additional personnel, like team members or contractors? If so, who are the best individuals to help you? You don't necessarily need to think through this step with your entrepreneur, but as I'm listening to the vision for potentially big projects, I'm usually making lists in my head of on-demand manpower.
What are your deliverables? This step is crucial to understand, so that you can avoid having to repeat work. Sometimes the deliverables are clear: a PowerPoint deck, a report, an email, a meeting. Sometimes they're obscured, and I have to do a little digging. I'll usually try and give a couple options and let the entrepreneur pick the best one, rather than have them micromanage my logistics:
- "OK. I can set up a 99Designs contest. How would you like me to share the top designs with you for feedback? In attachments, or in a PowerPoint deck?"
- "Sure, I can create a budget forecast for our next live event. What assumptions should I make for attendees on the income side?"
Every project, to-do and task has its nuances. By understanding the timeline, urgency, available resources and expectations for everything we're working on, we have the tools to reverse-engineer our day, crank out projects, and feel less stressed while doing so.
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