Ask a Manager: Prioritizing Projects

Question: I have been tasked with several high-priority projects that I'm excited about working on. They are all great opportunities for me to develop different skills, but I'm struggling how to I prioritize when all of the projects are so important. My organization is short staffed, and I don't want to be seen as not pitching in. 

Answer 1: It's certainly hard to know where to start when everything is urgent and important, that doesn't allow for too much use of things like the Covey quadrant.  Here are a few techniques you've likely thought of or used already! 
  • Make a list of the projects and determine what is relatively easy/quick.  Those could be done first.  Or, take this same list and number it - 1 is your thing to tackle first, 2 is second, etc.  Ask questions to make sure you understand the project's scope!  Plan your work, work your plan.
  • Most often you need to make progress on several things at once.  It may be easiest to schedule the time on your calendar in work blocks.  For 90 minutes (or 120 minutes), work on Project A, take a break, then do Project B for 90 minutes.  Stick to it and don't let other things come into those work blocks (as much as possible).  If you can have a wingman on these projects, all the better, since having someone else involved makes us all more accountable to get things done when there are competing priorities.
    • This idea also works for ongoing activities.  From 9-11 am daily, tackle item A; from 2-4 pm daily, tackle item B.  Or, every Tuesday do X activity.
  • Eat the frog: the thing you want to do least; your largest, most mission critical project; or something that you will certainly procrastinate on, do that first and get it out of the way.
  • Spend time at the end of the day looking at the next day to be aware of what's needed.  On Friday, check for the next week.  Adjust your planning as things come up.
  • Utilize more formal project management.  Having a goal with specific tasks and deadlines may help you see the full(er) scope of things and move different projects forward at the same time.
  • If you need others for these projects, get time on their calendars or email them now for the future so that when you are ready for them, the time is already scheduled or their answers are already to you!
If you need more help - speak up!  Let your manager know that you are excited but would like help seeing how to steer everything forward.  Let them know if there are specific skills you need to develop that will help you with one or ideally several projects.  He or she should be able to provide support and context, as well as help deprioritze anything that was the crisis du jour.  Keeping them in the loop on how you are planning on moving forward and your progress will also ensure that how you've prioritized things is in accord with how they see the priorities.

Good luck!

Answer 2: I agree with everything said here and would add that once you've taken some time to determine the list and what's really important and then arranged them based on what you think you should tackle first, put the list and due dates in writing and share it with everyone involved. Set the expectations with your colleagues for when you'll complete the tasks and set expectations with yourself for when you'll have time to work on your own tasks. Involving others helps to keep you and your colleagues accountable.