A Brilliant Tip for How to Manage Priorities at Work
February 25, 2016
A few months ago, I found myself having lunch with the CEO of my company. We had a great conversation about his vision for our business, his strategic goals for the year, and some of the projects that I was working on. After getting the shoptalk out of the way, we started chatting about professional development. As a newly minted manager and emerging leader, I sought his advice on how I might balance big-picture, goal-oriented thinking with the detail-oriented work that my team does day to day.
His advice: Write it down. More specifically, take a step back at the end of each week to record all the individual tasks that I accomplished that week, and then connect those individual tasks to larger strategic goals. If a connection can’t be made, then chances are, that task should not be a priority. My boss started using this system at the beginning of his career, and now that he’s a CEO, it’s still his preferred way to focus and prioritize.
Thus, my “career journal” was born. While I may not get around to it every week, keeping this journal has helped me write the larger story of what I hope to achieve—and then to zero in on the tasks that will make that story possible. This way, my day-to-day tasks are goal-oriented, rather than driven by momentary asks that inevitably pop up.
So how do I do it? At the end of the week, I set aside 15 to 20 minutes. On the left-hand page of my journal, I list all the individual tasks and meetings I’ve completed that week. Then I take a step back and look at the list as a whole. On the right-hand page, I organize those tasks into broader themes. Within this format, I can clearly see where I’m spending my time and which tasks are moving me closer to the completion of my larger strategic goals.
Visualizing my time in this way also helps me get organized for the week ahead. Did I spend a lot of time on improving customer relationships this week, but not enough time on internal company-building work? No problem; I can make up for it next week. On Sunday night or Monday morning, I review the prior week’s journal entry and start my to-do list from there.
The process is quick (15 minutes!) and painless, but it has been an organizational game-changer for me. Not only has my career journal made me a more efficient planner, but it has had an unexpected side effect: It helps me assess new projects that come my way and gauge whether to say “yes” or “no.” My journal has become key to my decision-making process, and when I flip back through the weeks, it’s a rewarding way to see just how much I’ve accomplished at work.