You’re Not Too Busy, You’re Under Prioritized

May 18, 2011 •

“I am just really busy. There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.”

I hear some variation of that statement at least once a day, both in my business life and personal life. I am pretty certain that I’ve even uttered those exact words at least a dozen times over the past year.

Sometimes I hear it in casual conversation, in which case I view it largely as a meaningless, throwaway piece of the conversation. More often than not it occurs in a business conversation, either before or after a missed meeting, phone call or due date.

I don’t buy into busy as an excuse. Sure, some people are busy. But if busy is the stated reason for missing something, here are the more likely reasons. You have too many priorities. You’re letting the wrong people set your priorities. You don’t know how to manage your priorities. Or perhaps the real reason is that the thing you missed really isn’t a priority to you in the first place.

In the marketing world we live in, people are very quick to identify their top priority, such as:

“Oh yes, lead generation is priority #1, without a doubt.”

“If we accomplish one thing this year, it’s engaging with prospects and customers via social media.”

“This new website has to be up by June for our big trade show, come hell or high water.”

Revisit that priorities conversation only one week later, and 90% of the time, the top priority has changed, more top priorities have been added, or that priority has already been mismanaged from a planning and time allocation standpoint.

And of course, most people will somehow weave their busyness into the reasoning behind why the priorities train has already fallen off the track.

Prioritization is not easy, especially when you have multiple personality types and styles of work in play. Here’s how we attempt to solve the problem at Right Source Marketing, both for ourselves and for our clients:

1. We focus on planning.

When done right, the upfront planning phase of any project sets the deck on not only deliverables, due dates and responsible parties, but it establishes the theme of accountability. If it’s in the plan, and it’s documented as your responsibility, then you own it. Whiteboards and conference calls may go away and be forgotten, but written plans stick.

2. We document and classify every priority, regardless of significance.

Every priority, be it short-term/tactical or long-term/strategic is documented somewhere with an owner and next steps. We use a combination of spreadsheets, Basecamp, Salesforce and a weekly priorities meeting to prioritize and reprioritize. It may seem like overload to some, but at the end of each day and each week I am confident we will not lose track of anything.

3. We hold everyone accountable.

We hold employees, partners and yes – clients – to the same standard of accountability. We all miss a deadline or blow an assignment occasionally, but it should not happen often. As a matter of fact, the critical side of accountability and ownership is identifying your struggles with an assignment before it’s due, or letting everyone know you are going to miss a meeting before it takes place. Much of this is simple common sense, but it should not be allowed to slip.

That’s the Right Source way, but it’s just one way. What is your method for handling prioritization, in particular as it relates to marketing programs?

The next time someone asks you how things are going, think before you respond. Are you really busy, or are you under prioritized?

About the Author

As managing partner and chief strategy officer for Right Source, Mike Sweeney is responsible for all content marketing initiatives, including growing the company’s content marketing practice, guiding all client content marketing strategy, and recruiting and growing a team of modern marketers. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame. You can find Mike on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn, or read his other posts.

  • Mike–

    Love seeing the way we do things laid out like this. I do have to say that I’m a culprit of always saying I’m busy! Yet when someone asks me how things are at work and I say “busy,” I mean, and I hope that I’m understand to mean, that things are busy because we’ve got a lot of awesome stuff going on, and we’re generally rocking and rolling. So I won’t be telling anyone that I’m “under prioritized” when they ask me “how’s work.” I’ll stick to “busy, good busy” just like “Bond, James Bond.”

    • Mike Sweeney

      Tracy –

      Here I am trying to start the “under prioritized” movement and you go and take the wind out of my sails!

      Of course, busy will live on as an appropriate response to the “how’s work?” question. The basic lesson of this post – and as you know this post doesn’t tell the full story – is that if you put the appropriate processes in place and hire the right resources, then busy alone should not be a reason for missing a meeting, call or deadline.

      The other lesson, not really addressed in this post, is that people often overschedule themselves with the idea that busy equals productive. It doesn’t.

  • I would rephrase this post’s title to

    You’re Not Too Busy, You’re Just Working On the Wrong Things.

    • Mike Sweeney

      Sam –

      Or how about:

      You May Be Busy, But You’re Definitely Not Productive

  • Vicki Corson

    Great post on setting those priorities but how does it work when the team leader/committee chair isn’t a good planner or priority setter? My part gets done but the project is still behind. Also, very funny that you and HubSpot had similar posts on the same day. http://bit.ly/iU1GF9

    • Mike Sweeney

      Interesting on HubSpot post. Ours went up yesterday evening, theirs this morning so I assume coincidental. Also, theirs is a broad topic of “agile marketing”. Very good post, although I wish marketers would stop borrowing terminology from developers, and come up with some original stuff.

      Great question on leadership. If your leader does not buy into or practice prioritization, planning or executing anything becomes tough. My best advice is first to make suggestions on improving the prioritization system and processes, and if that doesn’t work, consider taking that leader’s job!

  • Absolutely, couldn’t agree more!

We’re always looking for exceptional, new Right Source talent. See Career Options