Do you find it challenging to prioritise? Do you find it hard to say no to new requests? Do you find that you never quite seem to get round to completing your expenses or submitting your timesheets?
Here’s a simple exercise that might help you clarify what your key roles really are and hence help you prioritise your next actions.
It Works for Marketing Plans – why not for your Daily Plan too?
As marketers we all know the power of the objectives cascade. Business strategy helps us define a marketing strategy, which in turn helps inform the campaigns and tactics we deploy. Unless we can trace that linkage back from tactic to business strategy, it’s unlikely that we will be able to create impact and demonstrate business value to our stakeholders.
It’s the same with the things that we try to get done during the day. Everything we do during the day should link back to some other higher level objective or area of focus – otherwise it’s just stuff. So I think it’s pretty important to clarify what your own areas of focus actually are. Otherwise it’s like drifting in a small boat on a sea of busyness – lots of bobbing about but no real direction.
Clarifying my priorities
The exercise is simple. Take a blank page and draw 4 columns, headed as follows:
- Area of Focus
Area of Focus & Purpose
Think about your job (of course, you could extend this to your life as a whole – but let’s keep it simple for now). What are you 5-8 areas of responsibility that you need to focus on? If you manage people there will be something there about leadership or coaching. If you are in Account Management in an agency there are likely to be areas such as Client Management, New Business, Internal Projects or Admin. In a Client-side marketing team there may be something about Stakeholder Management or Cross-team collaboration.
These are Areas of Focus. They are not necessarily the same as Goals or Objectives, as they may not necessarily represent aspirations. For instance, most marketing jobs involve an element of administration (timesheets, expense claims,, etc). While they may not be aspirational, they are a necessary part of performing the role and therefore require focus.
Alongside these broad categories, write a simple statement to describe the Purpose of each focus area. This is the WHY behind the selection of the focus area. Clearly, if there isn’t really a Purpose, then it shouldn’t be receiving focus!
Now look at your calendar, your task list, your email inbox. Can all these items here be mapped against one of your Focus Areas. Perhaps you need to add one more, or reframe some of them. You might even want to glance at your company strategy statement or your job description (if you have such a thing!) and verify that they key elements here can be aligned against your Areas of Focus.
Theme Your Week
For instance, in my own business as a B2B Marketing Consultant I have defined 5 core Areas of Focus. Here they are, along with their purpose
- CUSTOMER – Purpose: Delight the clients who create my current income. This would include the various projects that I am engaged upon for paying clients.
- SELLING – Purpose: Create the income stream for the next few months. In my game, it’s essential to be progressing the next set of customer projects to even out the income stream. So any activities from a first appointment with a potential client through to formal agreement for a project belongs in this area.
- MARKETING – Purpose: Build a pipeline of new contacts to Sell to. I need to keep expanding my network and reach so here I focus on all the activities to do with identifying new prospects – email campaigns, blog posts (such as this!), my Purple Patch curated newspaper, developing new offerings, etc.
- ADMINISTRATION /SKILLS – Purpose: Keep the lights on and keep growing my skills. Here I focus on some of the necessary chores (invoicing, expense claims etc) as well as things to do with refining my productivity and developing new skills.
- PERSONAL – Purpose: Keep me and those around me happy. I choose to have one system for my whole life rather than separate the two. With the flexibility I have in my work lifestyle it makes perfect sense for me. It also means I forget things at home less often 🙂
Armed with these Focus Areas I have decided to theme Mondays and Wednesdays around Customers, Tuesdays for Marketing, Thursdays for Selling and the weekends for Personal stuff.
Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting that I ONLY do activities related to the day’s theme on that particular day. My schedule needs to be much more dynamic than that – as does yours. Deadlines, crises and opportunities need to be handled whenever most appropriate. It’s not set in stone – it’s a personal guideline.
However, if it’s a Tuesday and I have a spare hour I’ll look to do some activities from my list of Marketing tasks, or if I’m planning my week ahead I’ll tend to group Admin tasks into a Friday if I can. The benefit for me is that it means all the areas of my work life get some focus across the week and that I keep moving forward on all fronts.
Helping me Prioritise
Having a clearer sense of your Focus Areas helps me in a number of ways:
How do you spend your day?
I already use a desktop timer (Toggl) to automatically record the time I’m spending on client projects. This hugely valuable when it comes to creating invoices. However I also use the tool to track how much of my time I am spending on each of my Focus Areas. Reviewing a monthly report of how you actually spent your time and comparing it with how you intended to spend your time can be very illuminating! It has also helped me come to a better understanding of how much productive work can be accomplished in a day.
Having greater clarity on my areas of focus also allows me to better challenge whether I should be accepting a specific task in the first place. If it doesn’t align to one of my areas of focus I tend to push back.
I’ll get to it, but not now
One of my fundamental constructs of my productivity system is a list of tasks I wish to accomplish in the coming week. Using my daily themes allows me to easily and quickly defer tasks by a few days until their next Theme Day comes around. (Of course this only works for tasks that don’t have a specific deadline – which in my case is actually most tasks). Giving myself the permission to delay tasks for a few days without fearing that I’ll drop them is a significant factor in managing my stress levels. After all, it’s the loose ends that tend to cause stress.
How do you approach prioritising your work? Perhaps you have a different approach that works for you that you could share? I’d love to hear from you.