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March 24, 2008

Whenever I speak about Priorities, I describe it as a Cold War for “A Beautiful Mind”. Almost everyone I know is overwhelmed with work and most of them are unable to decide on their priorities.

I receive over 400 email messages each day (with virtually no Spam, so they are all legitimate). Currently I am a member of two departments; Product Management and the Network Team. I also work on at least 10+ projects under direct management supervision. Each day I attend at least 2 meetings (in-person/conference calls) and I have multiple walk-in corridor one-to-one conversations each time I walk to/from my desk.

In such a varied environment, one of the most difficult choices is to prioritize work and make sure you deliver your work on time without loosing focus of your other priorities.

How do I prioritize my work?

  1. I make a list of all tasks and activities which I need to accomplish.
  2. I divide my work into these three categories 1) Must-Do 2) Should-Do 3) Nice-to-Do
  3. I give the highest preference/score to requests from the senior management and my direct reports.
  4. If an email is sent on a “High Importance” notification I give it my attention.
  5. If I am mentioned in the “To”, I give it my attention. If I am mentioned in the “cc” or “bcc” field I partially assume the person is trying to keep me in the loop.
  6. I identify the areas in a task for which I am accountable for. This way I take ownership of the allocated task and prioritize accordingly.
  7. If I am allocated an “Action Item” in a meeting, I choose to complete it before the next meeting. I also make it a point to browse through the agenda and revise the previous “Meeting Minutes” before I join a meeting.
  8. I consider the real world limitations on execution of a work plan.
  9. If my current skill set is inadequate for the task allocated to me I will discuss it upfront with the management and try to find an alternative replacement for the task.
  10. If I am stuck in a complicated scenario I run down the “Prisoners Dilemma” model for Game Theory to identify the best available option which will allow me to prioritize my work.
  11. I do not waste excessive time on low-priority tasks.
  12. At the end of each day and the end of each week I try to reconcile with my daily & weekly scheduled tasks and I reorganize them according to meet the needs. Tasks may move to a higher priority as a deadline draws near.

To accomplish any task raw data needs to be filtered so that it becomes information; Information needs to be transformed so that it becomes knowledge. This complex environment of work prioritization involves structuring of data into relevant information by scanning, selecting and justifying data into useful knowledge.

With the idea that there should be a measure to control the work, I use Outlook’s “Calendar” and “Task” options to constantly remind me of meetings and incomplete tasks. I try to answer any questions/emails in a real-time fashion.

These twelve areas are a starter kit to appropriate prioritization in a complex organization. Work prioritization cannot be an afterthought; it is a project which must be resourced.

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