I received an interesting question from a reader of this blog: how to prioritize important action items and what to do when everything seems important.
Let me take the second one first. Not to trivialize anyone’s action items, but it’s unlikely that every item is equally important. I’m pretty dedicated at keeping a list of action items, and, while most of them are important, I can usually separate them into categories. Let me give you some of mine and see if they spark ideas in you.
1. Client work
When looking at what I need to do in a day, my first priority is work that someone is paying me for or has already paid for (like writing a LinkedIn profile). I’m going to lose all credibility as a business owner if I don’t do the work I’ve been paid for. Client meetings fit in this category. The only reason I’ll cancel a client meeting is due to illness or some other extreme event. If I don’t meet with the client, I don’t get paid, so those meetings are always a top priority.
2. Prospecting activities
This includes sending follow up emails, attending networking events and meeting with prospective clients. I need to keep my pipeline full, so it’s important to continue prospecting activity. I spend less time each week prospecting than serving clients, but few weeks go by without some sort of prospecting going on.
3. Everything else
Items in this bucket include keeping up with industry news, admin work like updating Quickbooks, paying bills, preparing for speaking events, etc. Unfortunately, writing also falls in this category since it’s not yet making me enough money to raise its importance to the level of the other two categories.
While those activities are necessary and, most days, I’m doing one or more of them, I will drop any of them if they interfere with items 1 or 2 above.
So, while arguably all of the items I’ve mentioned are important, I think I’ve demonstrated they aren’t all of equal importance. However, what do I do when, inevitably, I have more things to do than time to do them?
That’s when I take a critical look at what needs to be done. I start by moving items to a “not to do” list. Sometimes the move is temporary. Some days writing moves to that list. Updating Quickbooks can move to that list, for a few days or even, in a pinch, for a few weeks. Sometimes the move for a particular action item is permanent. Perhaps something seemed like a good idea when I added it to the list, but, the longer I postponed doing it, the less important it seemed.
Prospecting will take a temporary back seat to client work, but I do my best to keep that as short term as possible.
My action list is a dynamic thing, with items moving on and off it regularly. While it’s true that just about everything I add to the list is important in some way, I manage it by recognizing that not everything is equally important and being open to changing an item’s importance on the fly, if needed.
Let me leave you with one final thought. I bet you manage to find time for everything you really want to do. If you’re not finding time to do a particular thing, honestly ask yourself why. Sometimes you’ll find you receive an interesting answer.