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How to Manage Multiple, Conflicting Priorities

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Six tips for optimizing your workflow from the most organized person in our office.

In the spirit of gearing up for the new year, we asked the most organized person in our office, Kylie Van Zee, (who serves as both Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to our CEO) to share her tips for staying organized, focused and productive while managing many different projects.

1. Set Goals 

Here’s a simple truth: If you don’t know how your daily work rolls into your department goals or your company goals, you will consistently have a hard time prioritizing tasks. 

Therefore, if you don’t know what your goals are or the goals of the company, take the time you were going to use reading this blog and go ask. Seriously, stop reading. 

This is first, and most important, for a reason. Your goals and the goals of the company are your center and will keep you and your team on track. 

2. Make Sure You Are Clear On the Task(s) At Hand 

Procrastination breeds in uncertainty. That’s why its critical that you make certain that you understand the objective or project you have been tasked with. 

When talking about a project, you should be able to provide an elevator-style speech to your friend and an in-depth explanation to your stakeholders with ease.

Real-life: this can be difficult sometimes. The nature of today’s business means that your objectives may change with the season, or even by the day.  If that’s the case, I’d advise you to never stop asking questions–chances are those questions will help everyone find clarity and be more aligned with each other.

Here are some examples of clarifying questions you can ask about a project or assignment:

  • What does success look like for this project?
  • What value does this bring to the company or customer?
  • What are the main milestones of this project?
  • What are the signs that will indicate we need to course-correct?

3. Set Exact Deadlines

What really, actually, but seriously, needs to get done today? Many times, we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to finish a task. When we miss that deadline, it can cause us a lot of stress.

Ask yourself: What is the most stressed you are willing to be at work?

When you hit that threshold, first, check to make sure that the deadlines you have established are true and not simply ones you have placed on yourself.  What is nice to have done by this Friday, versus what needs to be done by this Friday?

Okay, so what about the situations when you don’t choose the deadline? 

In this case, knowing when to delegate or when to raise your hand for help are both skills to nurture. 

This is also where your stellar communication skills come into play.  If you need to push a deadline that can’t be pushed, you still need to communicate the risks or level set expectations.  

Note on asking for help: try to never ask for help on the same thing twice.  Learn so you can do it or teach it in the future.

4. Know Your Working Style

Of the many things that are helpful to know about yourself, knowing how you get things done is a really important one.  Knowing this will improve your work life and personal life, I promise.

Do you need quiet, or do you need to be around others?  What is your ideal physical environment for concentration AND collaboration? What organizational tools could you not live without? 

How you execute the task at hand is different for everyone; I can’t tell you what will work for you. If you don’t quite know, I urge you to think about time(s) you made significant progress on a project with little friction. (and even enjoyment!) What were you doing? What was the work environment like?

5. Stay Organized 

When it comes to staying organized, you know you have found your system when the thought of not having it causes you to panic a little bit.

There are many methods and systems to stay organized as you prioritize the tasks before you. I’m going to offer two of my own methods, which may or may not work for you. If you are at all intrigued, I’d encourage you to give them a try. Again, you know what is best for you. 

Have a gathering system. 

Keep all your tasks, to-dos, and notes in the same spot.  That can be a notebook, or post-its or, my favorite, Evernote. Getting everything swirling around in your mind out and in one spot gives you the capacity to think and do. 

Second, prioritize the night before for the next day. 

This not only punctuates the day so you can focus on all the other wonderful things in your life, but it allows you to start the next day with clarity.  When you sit down with a clear understanding of what your tasks list looks like it means you’re going to start the day quicker and therefore be more efficient. 

Looking for more information? I read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, which totally changed the way I work.

Buy it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

6. Keep a Healthy Mindset

One of my core tenets is that all information provides value even when it doesn’t. Thus, you have to treat all information with importance–even if that information isn’t vital to your daily tasks or goals. It may be helpful in solving a problem, asking a good question or optimizing your work in the future.

You can take all of the above as truth and implement these ideas in your every day, and there will still be days that you have to re-prioritize several times throughout the day.  That’s totally okay! Your prioritization system should be a living breathing thing that changes constantly. Just remember to be flexible, and advocate for yourself when needed. 

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