[September 5, 2018] In my U.S. Army career, I had two commanders who were both smart and dedicated … yet each had a similar weakness. Like every high-level commander, they ran large and complex organizations where they listed important priorities. The problem was these two had too many priorities.
“The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.” – Stephen Covey, American educator and businessman
We’ve all heard the saying, “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” I’ve been around many leaders who gave me a list of 7 to 15 priorities they wanted to be done (and wanted done “yesterday”). Heard this before? Yes, of course you have. Anyone trying to figure out this long list is bound to get tangled up and confused over what is most important for the boss.
Too many priorities are like having too many toys as a kid. You loved them all but could never play with all of them at the same time. Not unlike you as a child, as an adult, you can only do so much with what you have to work (play) with. That means you should concentrate on what is most important to you and your organization.
Neither of these two commanders was very successful. They muddled through their two-year tenure and accomplished some important goals but it was not without considerable angst. Their staffs were always overworked, their soldiers often idle, and civilian contractors happy to get paid for extra work. Both units were known for their inefficiency, slow decision-making, and backtracking once a decision was made.
Too many priorities are simply unworkable. Narrow it down to five or less. No matter what you do, once you get more than this, problems about what’s really important is subject to debate and confusion. Personally, as a commander, I only listed two priorities; (a) taking care of soldiers and (b) good-quality training. This worked great and everyone understood where I was coming from all the time.
Please take it from someone who learned about establishing priorities the hard way (being on the receiving end of too many priorities), set your priorities only about what’s really important and don’t have too many.