I was struck by something that Seth Godin wrote this week about the unheralded skill of setting priorities. He poses the question: “how do you decide what to do next?”
A few years ago, I worked on a business that routed packaging artwork by hand to get reviewed and approved. They had a traffic department that managed this process and they marked artwork by the level of urgency so that you knew how quickly to review it. Over time, I learned that lowest urgency was marked “Hot!”, medium urgency was marked “Hot! Hot!” and highest urgency was marked “Hot! Hot! Hot!”.
In this era of doing “more with less” where urgency ranges from “Hot!” to “Hot! Hot! Hot!”, everyone has more pots to stir. My desk sometimes feels a lot like this cooktop. It’s tempting just to spend time firefighting.
But that path leads to Busy Fools Syndrome. What goes hand in hand with trying to do “more with less” is learning what to take off the priority list. What’s more important than having a “To Do” list is having a “To Don’t” list.
I’ve been trying to manage less by urgency and more by priority lately. I certainly don’t always have the right balance, but I’ve learned a bit from reading Tim Ferriss.