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First, Prioritize

First, Prioritize

Want to be a leader?  Learn to prioritize.

If you’re an expert at prioritizing your time, well, don’t read this — it’s not a priority.  But if you’re not a world-class prioritizer — and you’re not diligently working to get better at it — think again.  You’re stunting your own growth as a leader.

A few insights about leadership and prioritization:

  1. Leaders are proactive.  Prioritization is the bridge from reactive to proactive.  Anybody can respond to what’s coming at them.  Is that what you want on your career tombstone —  “I responded to what came at me”?  Or do you want to create, initiate, drive change, lead? “Incoming” always expands to fill the time available, doesn’t it?  If you let it.
  2. Prioritization is the key to time management. And without effective time management, you can’t be successful — certainly not as successful as you could be.
  3. Prioritization requires vision — a hallmark of a great leader.  After all, how can you figure out the most important steps, and in what order, if you don’t know where you’re going?
  4. Prioritization demands you clarify your values.  Prioritization means putting first things first.  How do you know what’s first if you don’t know what’s most important?
  5. For all the above reasons, prioritization makes a leader out of a manager.

How well do you prioritize?  And how do you know?


  • For background, read up on the Covey quadrants, covering the intersection of the urgent and the important.  Try one of the following, depending on how much time you have:
  • On a work day with few meetings (if there is such a thing for you), set an alarm or alert (e.g. in Outlook) to ring every half hour.  Each time the alarm rings, take 30 seconds to ask yourself two questions:
    • How important is what I’m doing right now, given my skills, my interests and the mission of my organization?
    • What else could I be doing that’s more important right now, and how might I have chosen to do it instead?
  • Look at your calendar:
    1. How far out is it scheduled?  If it’s only today and tomorrow, and then some meetings after that, you might have a prioritization problem.
    2. How much time do you have scheduled in the next two weeks for discretionary activities that address important but not urgent topics?  If you don’t schedule such time, you allow vacuums in your schedule.  And nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum.  “Incoming” will fill them up, for sure.

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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