…which makes nothing a priority. Below is a picture (click on it to get a larger view) of an agenda from a meeting on a specific project. I’ve distorted the information that isn’t relevant to this article. The area I want to focus on is the third column. This meeting was held on August 31st.
The agenda has twelve items. Four have a date of “August” and two are labeled “ASAP”. The numbers 1-12 have nothing to do with priority. They just happen to be ordered by the date the item was added to the list.
Each week, this group will meet, and run through the twelve items. Is 1 more important than 7? No one knows since they all have a high priority. Here would be my suggestions:
Instead of ordering the items chronologically, order them by importance. Number 1 is the most important and deserves the most attention. Number twelve is just going to have to wait another day until we have more time and resources to focus on it. Once an item gets crossed off the list, the others can shift appropriately.
Rather than mark an item as “August” or “ASAP” give it a hard deadline. People tend to focus on the quick wins and attention grabbers. They’re probably shuffling 5 other projects besides what’s on this list. With a vague deadline, your line item just got pushed to the bottom.
Offer realistic deadlines. How realistic were these deadlines if everything is labeled as “August” and the meeting is held on August 31? Don’t be too aggressive if you can’t meet the date. Factor in other projects, holidays, potential unplanned activities, or any other possible distractions that will keep you from meeting your target date. Nobody is perfect so don’t expect them to be. Things will go wrong and you should factor that in.
Hold one person responsible per line item rather than an entire department. When someone sees a department as the owner of a specific task, they figure someone else will do it. When they see their name next to a specific task, they know they are responsible for seeing that it gets done.
Keep a Backlog
Separate the list into 2 sections. If something can’t start due to a dependency on another task, don’t bring it up each week. If that task with a dependency is so important, bump up the priority on the task that is holding it back. If an item has no progress from the previous week, find out why. Is the right person assigned to the task? Is it as important as you thought it would be, or should the priority be lower?
Once a month or so review the backlog for a large project. If it isn’t feasible to get it in this timeframe, defer it for a later time and move it to a completely separate list for another project. Which leads me to…
Keep Lists Small
This isn’t a complaint against the actual list I mentioned above, I think it does a good job of keeping it small. But I think it’s important and wanted to bring it up anyway. If a list has 10-12 items, it’s very manageable. Once a list gets too big, it’s too overwhelming. People look at the list, freak out, and procrastinate.
Break large lists into a couple of smaller ones. It’ll feel easier. When you’re done with all the items on the first list, move onto the second. It will make everything feel less stressful because you are managing smaller pieces at a time.
So there you have it. Keep the above in mind the next time you work on a list for a project. Hopefully things will go smoothly and work out for you.