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I have been hearing from several of my clients in my coaching practice that they are managing a long list of priorities, and everything is being categorized as equally and highly important. And their list keeps growing! It is not new for leaders to have to deal with multiple priorities at the same time, but there seems to be a trend toward an ever-expanding list. Are you finding yourself in the same scenario?

The first thing many of us do is a check-in with our boss or board to ensure that we are aligned with their most important objectives. Alignment is the absolute most effective starting point to help you prioritize as a leader. Sometimes even when we think we are aligned, priorities may have shifted so it is wise to check in on a regular basis (and do not forget to communicate these changes to your team. You need to keep them fully in the loop with any shifting priorities). Occasionally after this alignment step, there can still be some overlapping priorities and that means you must figure a way through this yourself – keeping the counsel in mind.

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One thing that helped me over my career when I was faced with a similar situation was to stop and think about these questions:

At the end of the day, when I sit down for my review or with the board, what will I be measured on? What are the top three things that matter more than anything else when it comes right down to it? (I refer to these top objectives as a leader’s BIG ROCKS.) What are the BIG ROCKS that you are accountable for delivering?

BIG ROCKS will usually include:

  • Delivering the numbers (or if a non-profit – the fundraising to keep the programs running)
  • Meeting people objectives (Retention of top talent; development of talent; NPS; employee survey metrics, etc.)
  • Stakeholder satisfaction

Transformation work, project work and all other objectives are means to these ends.

I have found that by focusing on the top three responsibilities, and then working on the corresponding projects that support delivery on those objectives, helped set me up for success. It both simplified my approach, and my work life.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with too many objectives, ask yourself at the end of the day, “What do I own and what am I measured on?” You may find that by simply taking the time to think this through, you will help yourself prioritize the path ahead.

If you are your own boss and lead a team – remember that you need to provide your team with the path forward also. If you create a list of 10 competing priorities, do not be surprised if your team gets off track where they may successfully complete a key project, but fail to deliver on the BIG ROCKS.

Keep these key steps in mind: Alignment – Prioritization – Focus on the BIG ROCKS.