time and Priority Management

Time and Priority Management

By Brian Dannatt (2011)


There are 86,400 seconds in each day. What are you going to do with yours?


In over ten years of coaching managers within all organisational sectors and from supervisors to directors a pattern that I see repeated time and again is that in the majority of initial coaching sessions the issue of time and priority management emerges. Managers have many demands placed upon them, often unrealistic demands for the resources they have available and cultures of long hours, no breaks and high stress levels are not uncommon in the offices and factories of the 21st Century.


Some managers are fully aware of how this impacts on effective performance others feel that if they are so busy then they must be doing some good but the fact of the matter is that the full potential of individuals and of the organization as a whole is diluted by a lack of clarity of purpose and the non adherence to obtaining clearly defined outcomes. The reasons are varied and range from lack of awareness, lack of practical and behavioural skills and power relationships within the organization. Changing the culture of an organization, facilitating effective employee engagement strategies or changing ineffective interpersonal behaviours are a little beyond the scope of this article. However, all is not lost as there are some simple to learn techniques which if applied can make significant positive changes in the way you prioritise your tasks and manage your time.


Five steps to effective time and priority management:

Step 1
Take a sheet of A4 paper and on the top write a definition of your job. Not your formal title but a definition in no more than a couple of sentences of ‘why you are here’, what are you paid to do?


In every job the reason you are there is to add value to someone. It may help you to think of what value you add and to whom to help you write your definition. Example: as a coach I may define my role as: "To be present and available to my clients to facilitate their awareness and in so doing enable them to make positive changes in their work and life."


Step 2
Once you are happy with your definition the next step is to list your Key Results Areas (KRA’s).


Your KRA list should be all the things that you have to do in order to fulfil your definition. Some of these may be daily tasks, some weekly and some even annual but keep going with your list until you can answer ‘Yes’ to the first of the following questions and ‘No’ to the second. And don’t forget that if your role is managing people you need to include things like; 1-1 time, meetings etc.

Q1 If I do everything on this list will I be fulfilling my purpose (definition)?

Q2 Is there anything on this list that does not move me towards completing my purpose (definition)?


Step 3
When you are happy with your definition and your list of KRA’s the next step is to arrange some time with your manager to discuss what you have written. This in itself is often a very useful exercise. Hopefully your manager will be in agreement but don’t be surprised if they are not. This is the opportunity to clarify what is expected of you in terms of your duties, responsibilities and outcomes. Expect some discussion and negotiation.


Step 4
You should now be at a stage where both you and your line manager are clear about what is expected of you.


The next step is to sit down with your list of KRA’s and your diary. It doesn’t matter whether you use paper or electronic diaries but keep to using one system that works for you. Now you need to enter into your diary time slots to complete each of your KRA’s. Don’t forget to leave some space in your diary to maintain some flexibility. If you haven’t got enough space to fit everything in then you need to go back and have a discussion with your manager about your workload. For the first few weeks keep a record of what you actually do each day and if you find your time is being taken up with tasks that are not on your list of KRA’s then you need to go back and have a further discussion with your manager to review why this is happening. Remember that each time you undertake a task that is not on your list you are being diverted from fulfilling your purpose. This is likely to raise some interesting discussion.


Step 5
Finally, I would suggest that when planning your diary you put a little time (15-30 minutes) at the beginning of each day to review your plans and current priorities. Don’t expect things to go entirely to plan hence the need to build some flexibility into your diary. But as a manager you do need to take responsibility for how you use your time. The final step is to take a look at everything on your desk and make one of three decisions for every item of paperwork.

Is this something ‘I’ need to take action on? If it is on your list of KRA’s then it will be.
If it isn’t then why have you got it?

It may not be something you personally need to action but it requires delegating to someone else to action

You don’t need to take action nor do you need someone else to but this is something that needs to be kept.


Anything not covered in 1-3 above needs to go in the circular filing cabinet otherwise known as the bin!


Take a look at the items in your ACTION pile and with a pen write in the top corner how long that piece of work will take you to complete. Then prioritise your action pile. Some things you may need to do today, others can be done later but ensure you have planned space in your diary (I suggest a little time each day) to process this transactional work.


Your DELEGATE pile should be handed over asp ensuring the person delegated to has a clear understanding of your expectations and don’t forget that you may still need to monitor this work.


Your FILE pile can be placed somewhere off your desk and if you do your own filing you need to make sure you have appropriate time in your diary for doing this.


Once you have done an initial blitz on your desk you can take a few moments each morning to look at what has come in and make the decision of ACTION, DELEGATE or FILE. You can also use this same process for your emails.


To summarise define your purpose and list your Key Results Areas and discuss this with your manager to obtain a clear mutual understanding of what is expected of you. These tasks are your priorities and you need to ensure you schedule time in your diary to complete these. Monitor your progress to identify if anything or anyone is distracting you from this and keep notes so that you can raise this with your manager and negotiate remedial action. Use Action, Delegate, File as a process to prioritise and manage your work. If it doesn’t go smoothly don’t lose heart but identify the causes and work out ways to limit or remove these interferences if necessary, with the support of your manager.


And finally Best Wishes with your endeavours


Brian Dannatt MIC