Blocking off scheduled time for your top priority work is game-changing.
A friend recently asked me, “What do you do when your strategic priorities keep getting interrupted?”
Asking the questions below help me grapple with this inevitable challenge:
#1 Is it truly urgent? — If you have two projects of equal importance and one is truly more urgent, then you absolutely should do it first. That said, projects often have arbitrary deadlines. Asking “If that deadline is not possible, is there a next best date?” can often buy significant time without doing any harm.
#2 Is it truly important? — There will always be more to do than can be done. It is easy to get distracted by projects that are high urgency and low importance. If achieving or missing a deadline won’t have a significant impact, is it worth letting something minor slide so you can progress on the opportunities that have the potential to transform your organization?
#3 Important to whom? — Is the urgent interruption important to you, or is it important to a coworker? People often bring late requests because they genuinely do not realize the time that they take or the problems that they cause. If they do not have your specific skill set, it can be very difficult for others to predict what is fast and what is time-consuming.
Explicitly setting lead-time expectations with co-workers helps them understand how much warning you require to be able to turn around their request given your current resources and competing responsibilities. This gives you the time necessary to do the work correctly which cuts down on re-work in the future, increases customer satisfaction, department performance, and team morale.
#4 How can we change the process for next time? — Is there a more appropriate person to help than you? Is there a way to automate or standardize the process to minimize the work that it requires moving forward? Actively scheduling a regular check-in with your stakeholders shows that you care about their needs, and gives you an opportunity to learn about new priorities early. You owe it to your team to ask for fair warning, to “Help you, help them”.