Competing priorities may seem equally important and worthy of full attention. For significant impact, though, you have to stop and determine what you can safely put on the back burner.

Why is it so challenging for executives to focus on priorities? It would seem simple; however it rarely is so. I work with executives in manufacturers and distributors ranging from $5 million to multi-billion dollar companies, and none of them have extra time. Additionally, it seems that customers, Boards of Directors, corporate managers (for the multi-billion dollar companies) and employees demand attention on a daily basis. Thus, priorities for ensuring bottom line results are delivered can be lost in the shuffle.

Thus, how can we combat these compelling forces that want us to focus on priorities, even if they are not the most critical priorities? No one has the complete answer – if it were easy, this issue wouldn’t be so widespread!

However, I do have a few secrets to success.

  1. Be clear on your top 3 priorities: Start by making sure you are ultra-clear on what your priorities should be to achieve your strategy, goals and objectives. Make the time to become clear. Leave the office and sit in a restaurant or at a park or at home and figure out what these priorities should be. The 80/20 is in knowing what you should be doing.
  2. Pay attention to where you spend your time: We all think we know where we spend our time; however, if we have to track our time for a week (in hourly increments), I guarantee we will be surprised. Don’t make it complicated; track it in your calendar or in Excel. Broad brush strokes will be revealing. I’ve found that solely by tracking where we spend time, we find opportunities to refocus attention on higher priorities.
  3. Find options to cover lower priorities: Once you know where you are spending your time, start by finding ways to supplement the lower priorities. There are several options: 1) Stop focusing on them. 2) Re-allocate responsibilities to resources better suited to handle these priorities and who would consider them higher priorities. 3) Outsource and/or supplement with temps/contractors.

Who knew focusing on priorities could be so difficult? Open your eyes, pay attention to what really matters and make small decisions to improve your ability to focus on priorities. Soon, your workday will transform.