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From the Trenches

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

Mike Sweeney | 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?

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About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on LinkedIn.